Check out the latest news about "Tales of the American" and the Arts District community.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Mongo was an ex-con living on Skid Row in Downtown L.A. when he found his way to Al’s Bar and started selling poems to artists and others entering the punk-rock dive.
“I'd come down here and get people before they come in the place, recite a poem to them, and, you know, get some money,” he says in the documentary “Tales of the American.” “I became Al's Bar's Poet in Residence, right?”
Mongo Taribubu — a name he adopted after studying philosophy and literature at Case Western Reserve University — was born in Memphis in 1940. He died this week in Los Angeles. He was 78.
He performed his poem “Penitentiary” — in which he personifies the soul-crushing brutality of prison — many times onstage at Al’s Bar.
“Dr. Mongo came on stage and started reciting this poem,” says photographer Raymond Y. Newton. “I was transfixed!”
The poet’s good friend and artistic collaborator Drew Lesso has said: “Dr. Mongo doesn’t deny the hardship of life or the beauty of life. He is whole in his poetic expression. That is his triumph.”
"Tales of the American" director Stephen Seemayer recently was a featured guest on Corridor Cast, a weekly podcast produced by the filmmakers at Corridor Digital.
We are very honored to announce that "Tales of the American" has been awarded Best Feature Documentary at the Highland Park Independent Film Festival. Director Stephen Seemayer, Writer/Editor Pamela Wilson and Cinematographer Raymond Y. Newton would like to thank the HPIFF for its support and the chance to share "Tales of the American" with a wider audience.
HPIFF was founded by filmmakers to promote the art of film in their community. It is the first film festival of its kind in Highland Park and is a "a grassroots organization, dedicated to inviting filmmakers who are producing the most unique and captivating independent cinema today to share their work with the Highland Park community," according to the HPIFF website.
This year's festival featured the work of more than 40 filmmakers. "Tales of the American," one of six feature presentations, was followed by a Q&A with Stephen Seemayer, the film's director, and Pamela Wilson, writer and editor.
By Kevin Roderick April 2, 2018
There's a terrific new LA history documentary running through Thursday at the Downtown Independent. Tales of the American tells the origins of what we now call the Arts District through the hotel at the corner of Traction Avenue and Hewitt Street — it has gone under various names since it opened in 1905 as the first LA hotel for African Americans, but the name that has stuck is the American Hotel. It's been a center of African American night life, including the site of jazz clubs, and a Japanese American corner when Little Tokyo extended into the area. After the Japanese were interned during World War II, that part of LA became Bronzeville, home to thousands of black workers from the South.
The film documents the social and ownership changes through the years, but the driving energy is the story of the American as the vortex of the first Arts District east of Alameda Street — and as the home from 1980 to 2001 of Al's Bar, the legendary punk venue where a lot of Los Angeles musical history took place. Filmmakers Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer, former residents and veterans of the first Arts District, gathered dozens of former residents and Al's Bar regulars to tell stories. The film picked up a new executive producer, the mystery novelist Michael Connelly, after the director's cut was screened last year. The final version includes interviews with photographer Gary Leonard, artists Richard Duardo, Colette Miller and Kent Twitchell, musicians who played Al's Bar, ex-bartenders and downtown fixtures. John Rabe of KPCC narrates the documentary.
This is the building where Pie Hole is located, across the street from Wurstkuche, and both symbols of the new gentrified Arts District came in for hissing from the opening night crowd of friends and family. But if you wondered why the street corner is named for the late Joel Bloom, and why there is a mural of Ed Ruscha on the side of the hotel, and why people still come looking for Al's Bar, "Tales of the American" will explain it for you.
Tales of the American
Seemayer Studios LLC