If there’s a body modification practitioner who deserves to be the subject of a documentary, it’s probably Steve Haworth. A nearly 20-year veteran of the industry, Haworth started piercing in 1990, opened his first HTC Body Adornments (now HTC Body Piercing) shop in Phoenix shortly after, and has since been a legitimate pioneer in the field, particularly with regards to 3D and transdermal implants. Haworth recognizes his importance to the field and is light on humility, heavy on charm: He considers himself nothing less than an artist whose medium is flesh, and inflects his speech with predictable gravitas to uphold the identity. Tall, often dressed in black, shaved bald and lantern-jawed with sharp triangles of facial hair forming about one-third of a goatee, Haworth’s look seems carefully cultivated, somewhere between mad scientist and Master. (Neither is far from the truth.) Much of Flesh and Blood, a new documentary from filmmaker Larry Silverman, is dedicated to capturing this element of Haworth: The reverent remarks from those close to him, his own elder-statesman philosophizing, and the apparent adoration from the woman in his life (at the time), Beki Buelow.
Silverman’s film dives right into material that may rightly strike fear into the hearts of heavy modification practitioners, showing Haworth performing implants (both transdermal and subdermal) while launching into an opening salvo in which he deflects as-yet unheard charges that he is illegally practicing medicine. On the contrary, he claims, everything he does, he does legally, and lays out his points — he does not make diagnoses, cut into diseased flesh or try to heal people — with the skill and practice one would expect from a person frequently on the defensive. But Haworth is charming, and his points are compelling: One wants to believe that he’s on the right side of the law, and that a documentary offering such explicit exposure of this world will be treated as an artifact and not an indictment. After years of (potentially unfounded) rumors that Haworth and others like him were being hounded by the FBI, it’s hard to know how the general public will receive Flesh and Blood.
But for those who appreciate the subject matter, Silverman’s film is a well produced affair, five years in the making. Procedure-wise, he captures some of Haworth’s most well-known projects (Joe Aylward’s “metal mohawk” of transdermal scalp implants, Stalking Cat’s septum repositioning and whisker implants), and manages candid interviews with enough of the peripheral forces in Haworth’s life to solidify the man as a legendary figure, albeit one whose mystique stands in stead of a true depth of character. Indeed, throughout the majority of the film, one of Haworth’s only true displays of emotion occurs when discussing the circumference of his penis (which he whips out to prove it is, in fact, as thick as his wrist) and a self-done meatotomy; mention of the latter leads to a vigorous reenactment, complete with an exaggerated pantomime and screams about excessive bleeding.
It’s also during this scene that Haworth and Buelow discuss the boundaries of their relationship, which Buelow says began in earnest when “[Haworth] sat me down on his lap outside his house and said, ‘You’re not going to see anyone else and neither am I, OK? OK. But we’re going to have multiple sexual partners.’” This was the first such relationship of which Buelow had been a part, she mentions, and that an adjustment period would be in order. In Haworth’s eyes, however, he had done due diligence, laying out “the way I am, what my needs were, and [letting Buelow] make the choice to be with me.”
This seems like a throwaway line, another facet of the mysterious Steve Haworth, until the film’s powerhouse final act comes out of nowhere, and the till-then advertorial tone that had been established gives way to real drama and pathos as the 45 minutes of film prior are revealed as something of a smokescreen. It’s revealed that many of Haworth’s personal motivations are, indeed, sexual, and that Buelow is finding herself in service more than as half of a proper relationship. She starts taking up activities like rock climbing to get out from under the umbrella of this little desert family, but by then it seems too late; one excellent scene has Silverman in the car with Buelow while she argues with Haworth over the phone about him being at home with a new girlfriend while she drives around, with Buelow’s side of the conversation indicating that Haworth is putting the blame on her for the current situation. This, in spite of the earlier declaration that neither party would date anyone else, multiple sexual partners notwithstanding, a rule that Silverman’s film only shows one party breaking.
After Buelow and Haworth’s relationship falls apart, Haworth’s teenage children come to live with him. His son and daughter arrive very much in his image, fascinated by body modification to the point that both children say they would go to cut-rate piercing and tattoo shops to flout their father’s rules about obeying age limits for such work, and even Haworth can’t bring himself to look displeased. It’s an idyllic moment — the interview takes place while the trio rollerblades along Haworth’s street — but the pastoral memory is interrupted by the realization that just over a year later, Haworth’s 18-year-old son will be killed in a car accident.
For a film that starts off as a well-made commercial and pulpit for the philosophy of a body modification pioneer, that it ends with such an honest and candid look at the subject which it spent so much time building up as the ur-practitioner is a testament to Silverman’s filmmaking abilities. (And his commitment to the project, which, again, took over five years to complete.) In an era where body modification artists are becoming, more and more, the subjects of sycophantic hero worship, it’s refreshing to see the arguable progenitor of the field so deliberately constructed as an ideal before being brought back down to earth — a character deeply flawed, victimized by fate and hubris, and undeniably human.
To purchase a copy of Flesh and Blood, please visit FleshAndBloodMovie.com.
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