Review By: Christian Ghigliotty
David LaChapelle’s first full-length feature Rize is like no other documentary you will ever see, period. The photographer/film auteur’ s fast paced film is loaded with energy and emotion that literally grabs you by the collar, drags you onto the dance floor, and has you swinging and screaming for eighty-five minutes, despite its formulaic and predictable direction.
Rize examines the recent dance phenomenon surfacing on the streets of Los Angeles and its impact on the communities and its performers; first created by Tommy Johnson (a.k.a Tommy the Clown) in response to the 1992 Rodney King riots, the movement then known as “Clowning” gets a facelift as a generation of angry and frustrated youth combine everything from African tribal rituals to moshing in what is now known as “Krumping”. The result is a more powerful and energetic form of dance that has gyrating bodies and fast swinging limbs that look more like epileptic seizures than a form of dance. Nonetheless the explosive movement has generated a buzz that has swept through many of Los Angeles’ most dangerous and gang ridden territories that include South Central, Compton and Watts.
Although Rize gives us an overview of the history of Clowning and Krumping, the focus of the movie becomes smaller in scope as it zooms in on the lives of roughly fourteen individual performers, all who have lent shape and continue to leave on indelible mark on the movement, with some representing old school Clowning—Tommy the Clown, Larry, Big X, Quinesha, La Nina and Lil’ Tommy— and some representing new school Krumping—Lil’ C, Ms. Prissy, Tight Eyez, Dragon and Baby Tight Eyez. Each has their own reasons in donning their respective and visually enticing “war” make-up, but ultimately what’s so refreshing is that many of the characters we meet throughout Rize uses dancing as a way to vent frustration and create familial bonds, ties that may be missing, incarcerated or dead. Both the stark reality and the incipient hope that permeate throughout offers an honest and fresh look at this seemingly separate world.
Director David LaChapelle captures some truly mesmerizing images throughout the film, borrowing from his sharp eye as both visionary photographer and bizarre imaginary. However, aside from those few beautifully captured moments the film holistically resembles an extended music video; from the outset, you can pretty much guess the format of the documentary: dialogue, three to four minutes of performance time, followed by more dialogue, etc. The bouncy, hard rhyme spitting hip-hop tracks that back the performances add another attack to the senses that will let you forgive LaChapelle’s follies behind the camera, and will keep your