If a great documentary film takes you to another world that you wouldn’t otherwise know, teaches you something about that world and fascinate and excites you, then RIZE makes the grade. It starts out with the notice that none of the footage has been sped up. Then we see why. In South Central L.A., where the Watts riots took place in 1965 and the Rodney King riots broke out in 1992, a dance form started by an ex-drug dealer as a sort of reaction to the Rodney King verdict thrives. The ex-drug dealer found redemption and became a self-styled birthday party clown, “Tommy the Clown”. He started dancing for children in full clown make-up and a huge rainbow wig, and eventually it caught on. Neighbors started gathering to see what was going on, joined in, and it evolved into a passion.
The dance form – called “clowning” is wild and fast, and looks chaotic. But you really have to see it to believe it. Now there are about 50 clowning groups; the dancers say that their groups are like their families. A group broke off from the clowns and started an even more violent-looking dance form called “krumping.” Within these one resembles a pummeling, like the one Rodney King got, one is called “stripping” which has highly sexualized moves but everyone keeps their clothes on, and one takes its devotees to church as a form of worship.
According to the film, clowning and krumping takes the place of gang activities. Now there are about 50 groups clowning on a regular basis, and gang members apparently leave them alone. Most of the dancers are African American, but there is a small group of Asian Americans called Rice Track. The climax of the film is a suspenseful annual dance competition between Clowns and the Krumps.
Fashion photographer turned documentarian David La Chappelle doesn’t give us much about the characters’ back-stories, but it would almost seem too intrusive to hear the details. It is implied that they live in a deprived and dangerous place with nothing to do. A cute teenaged girl even gets caught in gang crossfire and dies during the course of the filming. It’s hard to believe this place this deprived exists within miles of the
A few of the dancers’ character seared into my mind in the course of the film, especially the young woman, Miss Prissy who is pictured in the promo photo with her oiled taut muscular body. Most of the dancers have powerful firm muscle definition and sublime control of their movements.
A charming philosophical character, “Dragon,” comments on the phenomenon, coming out with pearls like “This is our ghetto ballet; this is how we express ourselves.” He also says that the dance is in them and it has to come out. Indeed, it looks like it comes from a deep place and expresses lifetimes of pain and sorrow. One of the most fascinating visuals is shots of clowning and krumping intercut with archival shots of African tribal that are almost identical.
It is clear that humans need art, and no matter how deprived people are, art forms can’t be suppressed. As one of the dancers so aptly puts it: “We’re gonna rise, no matter what.”
For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield. ©
Air date: June 29, 2005
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 6/29/05
2005; Documentary Film