Rize (Film)

Artist: Movie ReviewTitle: Rize (Film)Rating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Edwardo Jackson

BIASES: late 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors

action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks,

kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare

Allow me to share my secret shame: I love to dance. Salsa, merengue,

hip-hop – the faster, the better. Unless you’re Usher – with

the pipes and body to match – dancing isn’t considered very cool in

many circles. Obviously, it’s time for those circles to get “krumped.”

Opening to the seemingly overlapping newsreels of the 1965 and 1992 LA

riots, Rize, like the phoenix, starts in the ashes of urban

nihilism. South Central native Tommy Johnson having started his

Hip-hop dancing clown service as entertainment for kids, becomes so

popular that he spawns pupils and countless imitators. By 2002, “Tommy

the Clown” is a hood legend, having founded his own Clown Academy that

routinely saves motivated neighborhood kids from the harsh realities

of the street through a love of high energy dancing called “clowning.”

By now, however, the students have evolved away from the master,

forming groups of even higher energy dancers that take the “clown

dance” to an even more frenetic, crowd-pleasing level called

“krumping.” As the personal stories behind the clowners and krumpers

unfold – everything from children overcoming drug-addicted

parents to senseless, random murder of innocents – the build-up to

2003’s Battlezone V (a dance-off akin to a twelve round heavyweight

fight between the two dance camps) is overshadowed by the everyday

tragedies they dance so hard from which to escape.

As the essence of film should be, David LaChapelle’s documentary Rize is a purely audio-visual experience that is hard to accurately put into words. If not for

Clownfather Tommy (more on him later), the dance is the real star

here. LaChapelle wisely keeps the focus on the competitions and the

competitors, interjecting visually artful social commentary when his

subjects aren’t (e.g. demonstrating the artistic and aesthetic

parallels between traditional African dance and krumping with sly

intercuts). Even for a guy raised on a similar type of high energy

dancing in the South that we called “booty shake” (now called

“crunk”), I was mesmerized and astonished at the sense of agility and

balance contrasted with unbridled, passionate movement found in krump.

It’s a dance that lives at 150 RPMs with the precision of a brain

surgeon, the force of a hurricane, and the improvisation of a jazz

quartet (“the style changes EVERY DAY”). And you cannot take your eyes

off of it.

Or its ambassadors. Having to be a father at an early age to his

siblings due to their drug-addicted mother, the socially-astute Dragon

speaks with matter-of-fact ease of krump as art form. Dubbing it “our

ghetto ballet,” Dragon describes krumping as social, political, and

emotional release for the community. Renaissance woman Miss Prissy

(who bears more than a passing resemblance to India.Arie), when not

taking ballet or reintroducing herself to the word of God, also

provides apt commentary on the seen-but-not-heard oppression of the

majority: “It’s scary to go to Hollywood from the hood.” One kid found

clowning as an alternative to being forced into gangs, another used it

to express himself after having been shot in the arm by his own

grandfather. Although divided between clowners (old school) and

krumping (new school), a sense of communal pride at having created a

form of positivity and expression reigns over all – they’re

family. No matter your age (Tommy’s well over 30), color (among the

fifty clown groups in LA, an Asian one is featured on film), or size

(competitions include categories for “lil mamas” (preteen girls) and

“big boys” (the agile but overweight)), krumping is a pushy, vibrant,

playfully aggressive form of social expression that can make anyone

with enough energy and desire a star. Rize makes the acrobatic

theatrics in You Got Served look glacial by comparison.

Just like this movie, “there’s a spirit to krumpness,” attests

spiritually minded Dragon. It’s fostered in originality (“We’re not

going to be the clones of the commercial hip-hop world,” promises

krumper Tight Eyez) and community. If somewhat over-heralded as a way

out of the drugs, violence, and crime that stereotypically define

inner city African-America, krumping is the vehicle that shows the

beauty, artistry, and underreported ambition of a people that defy

stereotypes. It’s not a cliché because it’s real – all too

real when you see firsthand accounts of the alternatives. Krumping,

and Rize, put a human face on your racially biased eleven o’clock

news report.

More than just West Coast crunk and no less than an artistic response

to social, economic, and creative bankruptcy, krumping may be too fast

for me, but moves at just the right speed for the ever-advanced up-and-coming youth. Supported by photo quality backdrops of dancers krumping to an appropriately pulse-quickening soundtrack, Rize is bound to share my secret shame by erasing it. With the confident self-consciousLESSness of early ’80s hip hop, krump has no shame. It’s the new cool.

Edwardo Jackson (ReelReviewz@aol.com) is an author and LA-based screenwriter, visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com

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