Reveals a groundbreaking dance phenomenon that's exploding on the streets of South Central, Los Angeles. Taking advantage of unprecedented access, this documentary film bring to first light a revolutionary form of artistic expression borne from oppression. The aggressive and visually stunning dance modernizes moves indigenous to African tribal rituals and features mind-blowing, athletic movement sped up to impossible speeds. We meet Tommy Johnson (Tommy the Clown), who first created the style as a response to the 1992 Rodney King riots and named it Clowning, as well as the kids who developed the movement into what they now call Krumping. The kids use dance as an alternative to gangs and hustling: they form their own troupe and paint their faces like warriors, meeting to outperform rival gangs of dancers or just to hone their skills. For the dancers, Krumping becomes a way of life--and, because it's authentic expression (in complete opposition to the bling-bling hip-hop culture), the ...Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Exhilarating Paean to the Human Spirit and Artistic Expression
"Rize" rises above anthropological curiosity to be an exhilarating paean to the human spirit.
It is parallel to "Bastards of the Party" in noting how devastating gang violence, drugs and poverty have been to the social structure of African-Americans living in South Central Los Angeles and how young people desperately seek alternative families for emotional support. But debut director David LaChapelle (and a graduate and proponent of arts education programs) documents the power of artistic expression in literally saving souls and lives, here through a spontaneously indigenous, organized form of hip hop dancing.
It is "Amazing Grace" acted out before our eyes as this is self-help, bootstraps up through specifically African-American Christian culture that grew out of birthday party celebrations, going from clown dancing to crumping.
I was thinking of "A Chorus Line"'s refrain of "Everything was beautiful at the ballet" of girls escaping dysfunctional families even before these hyper-articulate entertainers point out that there are no ballet classes available to them, or any after-school activities for kids not interested in football or basketball so they made the choice to dance with organized groups, first in informal than structured competitions.
No white talking head experts are needed in this film, though it is not clear how much influence LaChapelle had over the participants' self-awareness over the three years he was making the film, as we only hear his voice a couple of times asking questions, usually of their mothers. For example, L'il C says such dancing is "in our blood" -- but is that after LaChapelle showed them the footage of African ritual dancing that they had never seen before -- and it is a bit disconcerting that of all the footage he could have selected he uses material from the Leni Riefenstahl archives. Ethnomusicologist Nick Spitzer of Public Radio's American Routes show could certainly teach them all something about the recurring phenomenon in the African diaspora of similar competitive "families" created around dancing and costumes or make-up, including the samba clubs in Brazil, the Mardi Gras "Indians" of New Orleans and the carnival crews of the Caribbean.
LaChappelle carefully introduces us to the participants as dancers and individuals before we know more about their difficult pasts and home lives, as these are young people who had to grow up too fast and are lucky to have survived, even as they can't avoid the neighborhood's random violence. We also see that these are the kind of individuals who are naturally nurturing and mentor-seeking, as one explanation of how they sought out the arts and why dance speaks to them as a mechanism to work out their emotions.
The sound track assiduously avoids degrading commercial hip hop selections for songs that reflect the spirit of the dancing, as the participants resoundingly note the independence of their culture from corporate forces.
While the story line wanders a bit after the climactic Battle Zone, LaChappelle forcefully links the the dancing to Pentecostal and Baptist gospel traditions for the life affirming conclusion. The closing shots of how it has spread outside the African-American community aren't entirely convincing.
LaChappelle can't resist some artsy music video type shots of beautiful, glistening bodies by the ocean, but that does serve to emphasize their dancing as an aesthetic form, even as the film does go on a bit too long and repetitively.
The interviews on "Charlie Rose" should be included with the DVD as there is no concluding update to learn that some of the participants are now employed professionally as dancers, though we did get a glimpse that Miss Prissy is taking some formal dance training.
Regardless, you do walk out uplifted and feelingly thrillingly positive about life.
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