Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Film Review: Rize

The latest documentary to hit our screens is Rize which chronicles the rise of a new dance form called krumping. I have heard this documentary described as 'stunning', 'throbbing', and 'vibrant'. There are certainly elements of these in the film but, overall, I thought it was a pretty boring film. South Central Los Angeles is a low socio-economic neighbourhood where gangs bring death to innocent people as they struggle to survive in impoverished circumstances. Then, a former drug dealer who found Jesus in prison, decided to become a clown and performed at church picnics and birthday parties. Part of his act included his own form of dancing - a combination of hip-hop, break-dancing, and simulated street fighting. It became a hit with the youth in the neighbourhood and Tommy the Clown opened an academy to teach them how to do their own clowning and dancing. Rize documents the rising popularity of krumping and the way in which street dancing and competitions around this dance form has rescued kids from drugs, suicide, and death. The best parts of the documentary are when the camera gazes at the dancers making their moves. At the beginning of the film, we are reassured that none of the footage has been speeded up. And when we see the dancing, we realise why that reassurance is necessary. Krumping consistings of extremely rapid, frenzied, fit-like moves combined with complex gymnastics, robotic action, and undulating body movements. It is quite incredible to watch. The film climaxes with a show down between the 'Krumpers' and 'The Clowns' -- the winners decided by the crowd who yell, scream, and cheer for the team they think is best. The dancing is interspersed with interviews with the dancers describing what krumping means to them and the way it has changed their lives and helped them rise above oppression. It's a great story full of human interest. But David LaChapelle, who normally makes music videos, has not provided us with a focused story. The film overall doesn't seem to reach the same intensity as the dance itself. There are hints of great depth (e.g. when we see the clown crying in one scene) but LaChapelle doesn't seem to want to go deep enough. Bill White, of The Post-Intelligencer has made some very interesting observations about this documentary. One of the participants claims that krumping will never be commercialised - that it will remain unique and firmly owned by the street dancers. However, LaChapelle 'is one of the trendiest video directors in the business' and has 'exploited' krumping in recent videos such as Christine Aguilera's Dirrty that includes krumping moves. According to White, some of the dancers who are portrayed as 'undiscovered' street kids are, in fact not so at all. Dragon, for example, was featured in another LaChapelle video of Blink 182 entitled Feeling This, Ms Prissey tours with The Game, and Lil C is apparently a well-known choreographer who has worked with Nelly and Missy Elliot. The music is not what is used on the street but was created for the documentary. The producers of the film apparently started their career with Michael Jackson and did the choreography for J Lo's Get Right. White concludes his review by describing Rize as
entertaining, ... [but] a somewhat duplicitous undertaking. Presenting itself as portrait of a neighborhood from which a new art form was created out of frustration and oppression, it is in fact a promotional tool from some of the heaviest hitters in the music industry. Enjoy it for what it is, but don't mistake it for the real thing.
The documentary presents itself as a raw look at undiscovered street kids and convinces us that we are seeing thing as they really are. But knowing the information Bill White describes dampens the enthusiasm one can have toward the film. It is hard not to wonder whether the documentary hasn't, as Bill White says, been packaged as a promotional to capitalise on this new dance art form. The documentary ends with the famous 'I have a dream' quote from Martin Luther King. Krumping is considered to be an alternative to gang warfare - a non-violent means of protest and survival. If it has that effect, then it is most likely a good thing. If you are interested in contemporary music and/or dance, you will probably find this documentary of interest. Just remember that what you are seeing may not be exactly the way it is. My Rating: *** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Stunning, explosively moving.' - Ken Tucker/New York Magazine Negative Review 'Although entertaining, Rize is a somewhat duplicitous undertaking.' - Bill White/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Related Links

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