Review: Documentary ‘Tales of the American’ recounts history of eclectic L.A. artists’ hangout


Turn-of-the-century Los Angeles’ only African American policeman once managed it as the only upscale hotel for black Angelenos. Its Depression-era Japanese owners had to sell it over the forced World War II internment that decimated Little Tokyo. After years as a forgotten flophouse, artists and punks took it over in the ’70s.

Downtown L.A.’s the American Hotel, built in 1905 and still standing as (if not exactly currently acting as) a temple of outcastdom in an ever-gentrifying Arts District, is now the subject of the documentary “Tales of the American.” It’s a prodigiously researched buzz saw of archival material, facts, feelings, testimonials, and nostalgia. Director Stephen Seemayer’s and writer Pamela Wilson’s love for this revolving door edifice of cultural history — think New York’s Chelsea Hotel and CBGB combined — is almost too much, with breathless narration (by KPCC’s John Rabe), over 150 interviews with assorted artists and denizens (who was that again?), and umpteen uttered variations of “Artists loved it here!”

A more judiciously curated, smoothly edited piece that lingered on fascinating details — like its original importance to thriving communities of color — or that used one talking head instead of 25 for any given thread, might have helped corral “Tales” into manageable shape. But for any local even remotely interested in the pulsating life of an unassuming brick nucleus for free-spirited creative types — as expected, the anything-goes Al’s Bar years get the lion’s share of anecdotes — “Tales of the American” will scratch an itch.



‘Tales of the American’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles

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