James Croak: Hanging Tough

James Croak

In “Young Turks,” James Croak tells the story of how L.A. Times art critic William Wilson reviewed one of his shows by saying: “James Croak has to make a decision between making sculpture and acting tough.” Croak then quips, “So I’ve quit making art.”

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Croak workFor four decades, Croak has been actively creating sculptures — at first large-scale installations such as “Vegas Jesus”; later more intimate, life-size cast-soil figures such as “Dirt Baby.”

Croak's studio was located at the heart of Skid Row at a time when a serial killer was preying on homeless men in the surrounding alleys.

Croak’s studio was located at the heart of Skid Row.

In 1981, Croak lived and worked in the historic 5th Street Fire Station at the heart of Skid Row. It was a very rugged environment — there was at the time a serial killer on the loose that was slitting the throats of homeless men in the alleys around Croak’s firehouse.

The seamy surroundings and his use of unconventional materials and taxidermy animals — such as the crucified ram in “Vegas Jesus” — engendered a violent, sometimes disturbing, aesthetic in his work.

And his life imitated his art: During his downtown years, Croak was known as a wild man — not just for his collection of guns and the fact that he lived in just about the toughest area in L.A., but also because he exhibited a reckless abandon that often led to danger.

The Hard Rock Café was located on the corner of 5th and Wall.

The Hard Rock Café was located on the corner of 5th and Wall.

“Young Turks” director Stephen Seemayer tells a story about one Christmas Eve when he and Croak went for a drink at the Hard Rock Café, a dive bar at the corner of 5th and Wall. When they walked in, a hush fell over the assembled Skid Row regulars, who believed these two swaggering young men to be undercover LAPD.

The crowd parted like the Red Sea as Seemayer and Croak bellied up to the bar, ordered shots of Jack Daniels and downed them under the steely gaze of an annoyed bartender.

After a few moments, the locals figured out Seemayer and Croak were not in fact cops and started moving toward them slowly. Sensing that Seemayer was feeling threatened, Croak reminded him that there was a Walther PPK in his ankle holster.

“What are you gonna do?” Seemayer whispered.

Looking around at the growing number of large men moving toward him, Croak surveyed the layout of the bar.

He calmly turned to Seemayer and said: “I’ll have to make ’em all head shots.”

Seemayer — visualizing the headline “Bloody Christmas at Skid Row Bar” — gasped, “That’s your plan!?” Whereupon, Croak snickered and agreed it was time to go.

They finished their drinks and backed out through the swinging saloon doors.

James Croak and his wife, Tomoe Ito, in Sag Harbor, NY.

James Croak and his wife, Tomoe Ito, in Sag Harbor, NY.

In recent years, Croak’s life has calmed considerably. He still makes sculptures at his studio in Sag Harbor, NY, where his lives with his wife, Tomoe Ito.

He shows his work around the world, including a recent solo exhibition at a gallery in Miami, and his work was the subject of a monograph by Thomas McEvilley that was published in 1999 and is available at amazon.com.

James Croak resume
For more on James Croak, visit his website, jamescroak.com.
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John Schroeder: Art and Archeology

John Schroeder collected fossils and other remnants of the past, which he either made art from or sold under the pseudonym L.B. Stone.

John Schroeder collected fossils and other remnants of the past, which he either made art from or sold under the pseudonym L.B. Stone.

“The stuff all around me, all these little things that I’ve collected, I really enjoy most of them, visually, there’s a lot of stuff to them that I enjoy.”

In the 1970s and '80s, 761 S. San Pedro St. (seen as it exists today) was the studio and home of John Schroeder.

In the 1970s and ’80s, 761 S. San Pedro St. (seen as it exists today) was the studio and home of John Schroeder.

John Schroeder was the elder statesman of the group which came to be known as the “Young Turks,” artists living downtown who were friends with filmmaker and performance artist Stephen Seemayer.

Schroeder was part archeologist, part geologist, part assemblage artist: He would find relics of the past — such as animal skulls, fossils and geodes — bring them back to his studio at 761 S. San Pedro St. and either sell them or make simple, poetic compositions of understated beauty.

My beautiful picture“I very seldom think about making art. A lot of people make art, that’s what they do. But that’s just kind of a facet, there’s so many kind of reflections. I like the things for their poetic qualities. Sometimes you can put these things together and give a certain kind of arrangement … it’ll be like a dream or give you an emotional kind of response to it. I’m after things of that sort, things that are not really articulated.”

His interest in the origins of life and the evolution of man was equalled only by his compassion for the less fortunate who peopled the alleys and parking lots around his studio.

bountiful“All the people on the streets, people that are fighting demons that we can’t see … people that society’s rejected, people that nobody wants. … It’s real sad. You can’t reach everybody. You can’t try to save everybody.”

Schroeder lived and worked downtown throughout the 1980s and ’90s. He eventually moved his studio to the Brewery Art Colony and bought a house with his wife, Waynna Kato, in South Pasadena. He continued to sell fossils and make art at his Brewery studio until his death in 2004 at the age of 61.

As eulogized in an obituary on the Brewery’s online journal, Schroeder “had a playful sense of humor and deep spirituality based in nature. He was a kind man, which is more than you can say about most people.”

A Look Back: The Golden Turkey Awards

Pamela Wilson and Marc Kreisel, co-emcees of the evening, delivered scathing hilarity from a script penned by Kreisel.

Pamela Wilson and Marc Kreisel, co-emcees of the evening, delivered scathing self-deprecating hilarity from a script penned by Kreisel.

After the 1981 Downtown Drive-In — at which the original rough-cut of “Young Turks” was projected against a wall at 440 Seaton St. in Downtown Los Angeles — Marc Kreisel, one of the “Young Turks” and owner of Al’s Bar, hosted a tongue-in-cheek awards ceremony to poke fun at the faux celebrity of the subjects of Stephen Seemayer’s film.

At a gritty warehouse on Traction Avenue, across the street from Al’s Bar, much of the L.A. art world gathered for an evening of mock Hollywood glamour and plentiful alcoholic beverages. In the preface to the book about “Young Turks” — published by Astro Artz in 1982 — artist and Otis professor Joan Hugo called the event “an extravaganza of tuxedos, sequins, limousines and ‘stars.’ ”

It was an art event that made fun of art events and the burgeoning cult of “art stardom.” And a good time was had by all.

DFFLA 2013 Award Winners

"Young Turks" director Stephen Seemayer with Jeffrey Gee Chin, director of "Lil Tokyo Reporter," which won the Audience Award for Short Film.

“Young Turks” director Stephen Seemayer with Jeffrey Gee Chin, director of “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” which won the Audience Award for Short Film.

The producers of “Young Turks,” Stephen Seemayer and Pamela Wilson, would like to congratulate all their fellow filmmakers and the festival’s organizers on the success of this year’s Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles, and especially the winner’s of this year’s awards, given out last night (July 19) at the festival’s closing party at Exchange L.A.

DFFLA screened more than 100 films over the past 10 days at various venues around downtown, and Wilson and Seemayer were honored to have “Young Turks” be included as a feature selection.

Thanks again to Greg Ptacek, Henry Priest, Tony Smith, Yadira Cerrato and all the other organizers and volunteers who made it possible. And much thanks to the Downtown Independent Theatre and all the other sponsors of the DFFLA.

List of Winners

Late Nite With the Young Turks

Associate producer Zach Seemayer, director Stephen Seemayer and editor Pamela Wilson at the Downtown Independent.

Associate producer Zach Seemayer, director Stephen Seemayer and editor Pamela Wilson at the Downtown Independent.

As part of the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles, two films were screened last night (July 18) that each present a specific time period in the history of L.A.’s urban core.

A great audience stuck around until the wee hours to watch “Young Turks” at the Downtown Independent, followed by a Q & A with filmmakers Pamela Wilson, the editor and co-producer of “Young Turks,” and Jeffrey Gee Chin, who directed the short film “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” which screened prior to “Young Turks.”

Chris Tashima, left, stars as crusading newsman Sei Fujii in "Lil Tokyo Reporter."

Chris Tashima, left, stars as crusading newsman Sei Fujii in “Lil Tokyo Reporter.”

Whereas “Young Turks,” directed by Stephen Seemayer, is a lively documentary about his life and artist friends living in downtown lofts circa 1980, “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” a 30-minute narrative film, is set in 1935 and tells the story of crusading Japanese newsman Sei Fujii (played by Chris Tashima) and his efforts to rid Little Tokyo of unsavory elements that were exacerbating pre-war racial intemperance toward the Asian-American community in the neighborhood surrounding City Hall.

The evening provided two very different yet intriguing slices of history in the life of Downtown Los Angeles.

Screening Tonight at 10:45 p.m.

Young TurksThe Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles tonight features “Young Turks” on the big screen at the Downtown Independent. The evening will include a reception beforehand; drink specials; a giveaway of one as-yet-unreleased DVD, some T-shirts and Party Boys CDs; and a short film called “Lil Tokyo Reporter.”

Tonight, July 18, 2013, 10:45 p.m.

Downtown Independent
251 S. Main St.
(between 2nd & 3rd)
Los Angeles 90021
(213)617-1033

Tickets

Downtown Film Festival in Full Swing

Tour producer Arthur Fogel and Andy Summers of The Police attend the Downtown Film Festival L.A. / Photo by Kryiaki Ross

Tour producer Arthur Fogel and Andy Summers of The Police attend the Downtown Film Festival L.A. / Photo by Kryiaki Ross

The Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles opened Wednesday (July 10) with a screening of “Who the F**k Is Arthur Fogel?”

Director Ron Chapman spoke before the U.S. premiere of his fascinating documentary about the man behind music’s biggest world tours.

Featuring Bono, Sting, Madonna, Andy Summers, Lady Gaga and the Rolling Stones, among others, the film goes behind the scenes as Fogel outwits Bill Graham to produce the Stones’ first megatour, including a venue in the Bay Area where the legendary promoter ruled with an iron fist.

It also shows the years of preparation for U2’s ill-fated 360º Tour, which featured concerts in the round with a specially engineered structure that straddled the stage to hold amps, lights and LCD displays. The tour had just gotten started when it had to be postponed because Bono had sustained a back injury.

Actor Adrien Brody and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher review submissions for the Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series.

Actor Adrien Brody and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher review submissions for the Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series.

Another highlight of the festival so far was the Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series, a program of five short films all created from the same one-page script by Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”).

Fletcher presented the films, which showed a great diversity of vision with essentially the same dialogue. The idea is, filmmakers around the globe take the same minimal dialogue and submit treatments that show how they would make it into a five-minute movie. The best ideas are awarded $50,000 each for production costs, and the results can be seen here.

The film series is an ongoing product sponsored by Bombay Sapphire, and the next round of submissions is open now. Click here for more information and to submit an idea. The deadline is Aug. 4, 2013.

Don’t forget: “Young Turks” screens Thursday, July 18, 2013, at 10:45 p.m., and there will be a reception beforehand with drink specials and more.

Downtown Independent
251 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, 90021
(213)617-1033

Tickets

Downtown Film Festival Opens Tonight

“Young Turks” to Screen at Downtown Independent on Thursday, July 18

ladtnarthur-fogel-poster-feb-2013As you can see on the L.A. Downtown News website, the fifth annual Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles opens tonight (July 10, 2013) with a red garpet gala and the U.S. premiere of filmmaker Ron Chapman’s “Who the F**k is Arthur Fogel?,” a  documentary about the creative force behind seven of the 10 bestselling worldwide concert tours in history.

The film — which will show at the AT&T Center Theater — follows the journey of a former drummer from a forgettable rock band in Canada who finds his muse in organizing, not playing, live music, eventually becoming head of global music and touring for Live Nation and a close confidante to Madonna, Bono, David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Sting and other music superstars.

Other highlights of the festival this week: An ArtWalk exhibit called “Art in Motion,” with a reception at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art at 5th and Main on Thursday, July 11; a program of shorts hosted by Oscar-winning “Precious” screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher on Friday, July 12, at the Downtown Independent; and the documentary feature “Paladar,” about how two hungry USC students on a mission managed to turn L.A. food culture upside down (Saturday, July 13).

Tickets for most DFFLA events are $13 and can be ordered at dffla.com.
Here is the complete schedule of screening, panels, parties and other events. DFFLA 2013 Schedule

Young Turks to Screen at Downtown Independent

dffla“Young Turks” will screen at the Downtown Independent Theatre as part of the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles on Thursday, July 18, 2013, at 10:45 p.m. (This is a change from the earlier announced date and time.)

Tickets are on sale now for the program, which also includes a short film called “Lil Tokyo Reporter.” Here is a summary:

Lil Tokyo Reporter” is a short film set in 1935 Los Angeles based on the life of civil rights leader and newspaperman Sei Fujii. While the country struggles through the Great Depression, the Japanese-American community unites for survival. Sei Fujii’s law partner uncovers the ill intentions of the local mafia. Fujii must make a decision between saving face in his community and confronting the issue head on. Based on a true story. (30 Minutes)

Young Turks

Documentary, 95 mins.
Directed by Stephen Seemayer / Edited by Pamela Wilson / Produced by Stephen Seemayer and Pamela Wilson / Associate Producer Zach Seemayer
Featuring Bob & Bob / Linda Frye Burnham / James Croak / Woods Davy / Eric “Randy” Johnsen / Marc Kreisel / Richard Newton / Jon Peterson / Monique Safford / John Schroeder / Stephen Seemayer / Coleen Sterritt / Andy Wilf
Narrated by Patt Morrison
Music by Fat & Fucked Up / The Dark Bob / Party Boys / Linda Frye Burnham

Thursday, July 18, 2013, 10:45 p.m.

Downtown Independent
251 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(between 2nd & 3rd)

Map

Tickets for this event are $13, and can be purchased here.