Instant Watch: Body Modification Documentaries

Netflix Instant is a great service for a simple reason: it provides instant access to a whole lot of lesser known films. Independent films, foreign films, rare TV programs, even B-movies and straight to video features can be found at the click of a button. In this inaugural edition of Instant Watch, I'll be going into a trio of documentaries on body modification available to stream instantly on Netflix. First, what is body modification? That's a question that one of these documentaries addresses in great detail and the other two take for granted. Essentially, it's cosmetic changes to the human body outside the traditional fields of medicine. We're talking about tattoos, piercings, brandings, scarification, stretching, implants, transdermals, even genital modification for sexual (rather than gender) reasons. The subject is as varied as a simple heart on an arm to the insertion of horn like implants beneath the skin. It's a fascinating subject that encompasses many social taboos.

Modify is the most accomplished and compelling body modification documentary on Netflix Instant. The thesis is simply what defines body modification. The interview subjects range from a Las Vegas drag performer who has had a facelift and injections to keep his edge to a Native American called Stalking Cat who is undergoing a lengthy series of radical modifications to resemble a lion. Many of the procedures are demonstrated in full graphic detail, including the splitting of the urethra for sexual pleasure and transdermal implants--body piercings that scar into place under the skin and can take interchangeable screw in hardware (spikes, medallions, jewels, etc).

The director chooses not to cast judgment on the body modification community. Instead, he tries to understand key issues. He'll ask all of the subjects (doctors, tattoo artists, body piercers, and body modifiers alike) what defines the line between modification and mutilation. The documentary is cleanly shot, well-edited, and filled with interesting and well-spoken subjects who act as great ambassadors to the body modification community.

Rating: 6/10

Flesh & Blood is a documentary that focuses on the single subject of Steve Haworth. Haworth is the body piercer who invented what he calls 3D Body Modification. These are the implants and transdermals that are placed beneath the skin. He develops his own tools, his own implants, and his own methods of insertion. The documentary is really broken into three arcs.

The first, and most compelling, is a discussion of the ethics of body modification. Legally, Haworth cannot use pain or numbing medication without being a licensed doctor. His work is technically legal, but his methods could be harmful if anything goes wrong.

The second is a look at a side-project of Haworth's: suspensions. Suspensions are when large hooks are inserted into the skin and used to lift people off the ground. This is not nearly as interesting as the body modification methods he pioneered yet it encompasses the largest chunk of the film.

The third arc is his personal life. This is boring in the age of reality TV. His girlfriend works with him, then leaves him. His friend works with him, then leaves him. His father works with him, then questions him. People come and go and Haworth comes across worse as a person than as an inventor. Still, there is enough to keep a less informed viewer interested.

Rating: 5/10

Tattoo Ink is the worst of the Netflix Instant body modification documentaries. There is no thesis and there is no rhyme or reason to the subjects. A few select tattoo artists are chosen to be profiled, though they aren't consistently identified or shown.

There are bizarre color filters and editing choices that are extremely off-putting and the sound mix is terrible. Microphones fall in and out of the shot and the occasional on camera interviewer doesn't ask questions so much as try to get a rise out of the subjects. It was a struggle to get through the entire film.

Rating: 1/10

So there you have it. Three very different documentaries on the subject of body modification available to watch instantly through Netflix.