The following is not an outline for a comedy sketch: Rise is about a bunch of inner city youth in Los Angeles who put on makeup and fuse hip-hop thug posturing with slam dancing, pole dancing and pro wrestling while performing at children’s birthday parties. Their leader is an ex-con in a rainbow afro-wig named “Tommy the Clown.” The movie was made by next in line to the Annie Lebowitz throne, “surreal” portrait and fashion photographer David LaChapelle. It is somehow all related to the LA Riots of 1992. Rise catalogs two competing movements–the goofy yet good natured “Clowners” and the more serious, more street “Krumpers.” You might remember local news reports from about eighteen months back that were pumping out the usual hand wringing, the sky is falling style reports about a new “violent dance craze that is sweeping our nation’s youth.” That’s Krumping. It is essentially slam dancing to hip-hop, but instead of just beer-bellied Tool/Rage Against The Machine/Static-X fans taking out their suburban angst on each other while aimlessly going round and round in circles, Krumpers incorporate actual dance moves and claim to be making an artistic statement. They also look as if they are caught in PCP-induced seizures most of the time. As Rize states just before the opening credits, none of the film has been sped up. Holy shit these kids move fast.
And all of them are black.
I state the above as a single line because whatever else Rize sets out to accomplish, there is an overlaying veneer of desperate sadness that permeates the entire film. I lived–and still do live–between ten and twenty miles from where the entire movie was filmed. And I also know that Tony Simon is a fucking asshole. His death is the only thing that will give my life meaning. May he die the day after his ugly wife announces that she’s pregnant. I have never seen a Krumper/Clowner and they have never seen me. These people live in an insular ghetto because of how they were born and with very few exceptions none of them have any chance whatsoever to escape. This is why, whenever I hear smug white fucks talking about how “unfair” Affirmative Action is, my initial response is to reach down their throats and rip out their fucking hearts and guts. As Richard Dawkins said, one of mankind’s greatest failings is the human ability to carry grudges across generations. For instance, the guilt of the father being passed on to the son. Not that blacks in America are guilty of anything, but young black children should not have to suffer away in crime-ridden, poverty stricken ghettos because their parent’s were forced to. It just sucks and I hate it. As a result, Rize is quite depressing. Sure, it sets out to document what certain kids are doing to fight all that heinous shit, but as Tom Cruise might say, it only masks the problem.
That said, I still had fun watching these kids dance around like absolute fucking maniacs for ninety minutes. Clown makeup aside, there was something engaging about their insane gyrations. The film mostly focuses on specific dance posses of Clowners or Krumpers, but the best parts for me were the really fat people who decided to try and shake it on the dance floor. As mentioned, a key component of the phenomenon is the “stripper dance.” Essentially, that entails sticking your butt out and shaking it wildly. There is one scene in particular where this three-hundred pound woman is laying face down on the floor and shaking her ass; it looks like two watermelons in a paint shaker. Also, and I know it is wrong, but there are numerous shots of little four-year-old girls shaking it all over the place. While totally, um, not right, I laughed my ass off. The people in the film seem to find this very entertaining, so, with brain shut off, I’ll just leave it at that. Also cool was the dance-off that took place at the great Western Forum in Inglewood. It featured Clowners vs. Krumpers in various categories. Little kids, “big boys,” the ladies and then finally the older guys. The Krumpers totally got ripped off (for some reason, Tommy the Clown was in charge of deciding who won each bought), but it was pretty remarkable to watch.
I think my favorite part took place after the film was over. Amanda Egge was nice enough to bring me along (she had free tickets as it was a public radio event) and as soon as the film ended, she went pee-pee and I ran outside to light a cigarette. This meant that I got to stand at the exit to the theater and listen to what the various moviegoers had to say upon leaving. The first notable guy was a middle aged white dude who proclaimed to his wife, “That was the worst movie I have ever seen.” When he wife tried to disagree he cut her off, saying, “Definitely the worst.” Then a middle aged white chick says, “That was simply incredible.” Then a younger white chick says, “I think it is so great that those kids are doing something positive with their lives.” A second later, a black woman about the same age says to her friend, “I just don’t think any of those kids are ever going to go to college.” More importantly, I got to watch about half a dozen middle-aged women walking out of the theater Krumping. Simply fucking outstanding.
Rize is shot well and looks good and all that but it doesn’t really have a narrative thread or an arc to the story. As the NPR dude lectured us before the film, the movie works better as a “document” than it does as a “documentary.” In other words, it was a bit dull. I’m more than 90% sure that Mr. LaChapelle was being exploitative as the film does have a certain minstrel-show quality to it. Over and over and over again we hear how desperate life is in the ghetto and all anyone seems to do about it is to dance like speed-freak clowns. I guess I’m not convinced that LaChapelle really wanted to see these children lifted out of poverty, for then what would happen to the Krumping. Not because he is a bad person or anything like that, rather I just think he was more interested in the actual dancing, as opposed to the root causes behind the dancing. Which I just find terribly sad. Of course, that’s why LaChapelle is a world-renowned photographer and I’m a wanna be philosopher. Big picture man, always the big picture.