Directed by David LaChapelle. (2005, PG-13, 84 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 1, 2005
Celebrity photographer David LaChapelle makes the jump to documentarian with his first feature, Rize, which he developed from his 2004 short film “Krumped.” The film opens up the world of the Los Angeles inner-city dance craze of clowning and its more aggressive offshoot, krumping. Not widely known of outside the African-American communities in which the trend has taken root, Rize conveys itself to viewers almost as a news flash rather than an investigative documentary, which helps the film ingratiate itself among the previously clueless. Everybody wants to be on top of the latest fad, and white America historically has a way of keeping an eye on black culture for things to usurp. Material at the beginning of Rize includes footage of the Watts riots in the Sixties and the Rodney King riots in the Nineties, and LaChapelle and the dancers argue that clowning and krumping stem from the violent physical chaos of L.A.’s mean streets. Later in the film, LaChapelle intercuts anthropological footage of African tribal dancers with the modern-day krumpers to show a certain continuity to the moves and all-out abandon of the dancers. Rize is at its best in these moments when it attempts to do something more than record the simple here and now. Yet even that is not so simple: A note at the start of Rize tells the viewer that none of the footage has been sped up in any way, since it might be easy to believe the body incapable of such crazy movements without artificial help. The film and its participants view these clown groups as alternatives to gangs, and estimate there are around 100 groups in existence (prior to the release of the movie, of course). Tommy the Clown, a ghetto celebrity who is credited with starting the clowing thing, is an ex-con who first donned his fright wig for birthday parties and such but soon grew into a father figure for many and the impresario of Battle Zone, where clowns and krumpers compete for glory. The filmmaker interviews many of the participants, although their insights quickly grow repetitive and the film provides too little extraneous material about their lives to allow us to relate to the dancers outside of their dancing. Rize often seems more photo shoot than film as LaChapelle’s camera fixates on the gyrating bodies tossing off beads of sweat. Occasionally, his gaze is revealing, as when he watches Tommy powdering his black face with white clown powder, but most of the time his gaze is passive as we realize that although we are watching yet more dancers we are no longer learning anything new. With a running time of only 84 minutes, Rize frequently feels padded. However, there’s no denying the fascination of watching these bodies in motion and the ascendency of a new, American-born art form.