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'Young Turks' shows downtown LA arts scene when 'the rent was cheap, the streets were tough, and the beer was warm'

Rabe, Connor, and Stephen Seemayer
Rabe, Connor, and Stephen Seemayer
Pamela Wilson
Rabe, Connor, and Stephen Seemayer
Young Turks
Rabe, Connor, and Stephen Seemayer
LAPL Caption: "Even Gov. Brown has popped in at Mark Kreisel's hot spot. Al's Bar at 305 South Hewitt was started by downtown art community leader Mark Kreisel and became the place to see new bands. Photograph dated: Dec. 6, 1981."
Anne Knudsen/LAPL/Herald-Examiner Collection

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UPDATE 12/12/2013: Tuesday, Dec. 17, “Young Turks” is being released on cable
video on demand, including Comcast, Cox, Frontier and Verizon FIOS; and iTunes, GooglePlay, XBox, Playstation and Vudu.

When I moved to LA, Al's bar, the old center of the downtown LA arts and punk music scene, had only a few months to live. But back in the 1980's, it was the spot to gather, and a number of artists who helped make the scene lived in Al's building, the American Hotel. So it was natural for me to meet Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer at the old Al's Bar site to talk about their new/old documentary, Young Turks.

Young Turks is the kind of doc I like. It's short, meaning the filmmakers respect our time and don't force us to watch every should-be outtake they think is essential to understanding their vision of life. And, it doesn't pretend to unlock the mysteries of the universe. It's about a particular group of people who lived in a particular place for a while. It shows how they lived, where they lived, and what and who they lived among.

Specifically, Young Turks is about Wilson and Seemayer's friends, artists and art-associated people who lived and worked downtown c. 1980, including Bob & Bob, Linda Frye Burnham, sculptors Woods Davy, Coleen Sterritt, John Schroeder, Jon Petersen, and James Croak, "action critic" Randy Johnsen, Al's Bar owner Marc Kreisel, conceptualist Monique Safford, and painter Andrew Wilf. It also includes interviews/vignettes with various homeless people, who become the real stars of the film.

Seemayer shot Young Turks c 1980 on 8mm, and could only manage a very rough cut, which got two showings. Then it sat in his and Pamela's closet for thirty years. Then, partly fueled by being pissed off that Pacific Standard Time ignored their downtown scene, they remastered it digitally and added footage that didn't make the initial cut.

The result is a thought-provoking portrait of a time, with, as Wilson points out, more similarities than differences from today's downtown arts scene.

It's worth going to see it at the Downtown Independent ... where you can drink cold beer in your seat.