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Review: 'Young Turks' brings L.A. art period out of the archives

'Young Turks' focuses on the downtown L.A. art scene during a time of flux, from 1977 to 1981.

February 07, 2013|By Robert Abele
  • Painter Andy Wilf is among the artists profiled in "Young Turks."
Painter Andy Wilf is among the artists profiled in "Young Turks." (Handout )

A snapshot of Los Angeles artists during a cultural pivot point, the documentary "Young Turks" sparks fascination and frustration in equal measure.

From 1977 to 1981, multimedia artist Stephen Seemayer filmed friends and colleagues from the downtown L.A. art scene — sculptors Coleen Sterritt and Woods Davy, Al's Bar owner Marc Kreisel, performance artists Bob & Bob and Richard Newton — during a pre-MOCA time of cheap overhead, more prevalent urban squalor and edgy, envelope-pushing spirit. ("Young Turks" was Seemayer's label for them.)

After a few rough cut showings, the 8-millimeter film was tucked away until recent interest in L.A.'s art history spurred Seemayer, with Pamela Wilson, to bring the footage back into the light.

There's plenty to satisfy art lovers (whatever you think of the individual artists' works) and the downtown-curious, as the then-interviewees expound upon their work and how this concrete pocket of urban individualism — its violence, excitement and apartness — influences them.

But the movie calls for more present-era context beyond a prologue narrated by Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times and fewer of Seemayer's amateurish aesthetic noodlings: interstitial interviews with raving derelicts, split-screen tricks and manipulated images.

With all that footage, something more than a manifesto in amber might have further justified this otherwise intriguing archival project.


"Young Turks." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.


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