Tattoo Mike: The Illustrated Man

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


A young artist with a fatal medical condition comes to New York City to have his face tattooed so he can live the life of a carnival sideshow performer, years before a sideshow exists to perform with.


As a boy of 10, Michael Whisenhunt was diagnosed with brittle diabetes and told he would be lucky to see 25.  As a young man in the early 80’s he came to New York where tattooing was banned and the tradition of carnival sideshow as popular entertainment had died.  With the fearlessness that comes with the certainty of a brief life, Michael Whisenhunt illegally had his face tattooed and took on the persona of Michael Wilson the Illustrated Man, joining the cast of the reborn sideshow at Coney Island, and as a public figure popularized the acceptance of tattoo in mainstream culture.


The grit and glamour of 1980’s downtown New York City is the setting of Michael Wilson’s biography told through sit down interviews, animated sequences, historical and archival footage including Michael’s appearances on talk shows like Geraldo, music videos for Bruce Springsteen, and as a fashion model for Vogue.  Interviews are presented in black and white as a creative device to delineate between the present and past and generates a more visceral impact when Michael appears on the screen radiating the color in his skin.  Animation will be used to depict key stories about Michael’s life for which no archival material exists.  Animation will be created digitally using hand painted illustrations as a base.  Although there are moments in Michael’s life of great turmoil and sadness the overall goal is to share the legacy of a great artist that changed popular culture forever through his personal creative exploration.  It's a story that is inspiring and upbeat and will leave the audience feeling like they are blasting along the old wooden tracks of the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island on a warm summer day by the beach.


Ethan Hill - Director

Ethan Hill has over twenty years of experience in the magazine world as a portrait and celebrity photographer.  A partial client list includes Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, New York Times, WIRED, Atlantic Records, A + M Records, and TIME.  For 11 years Ethan contributed regularly to domestic and international editions of Newsweek. Aside from commercial assignments Ethan is also involved in a personal portrait project documenting the lives of gay men. Ethan is an instructor at the International Center for Photography in New York and has work included in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery London.


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