Rize Movie Review

For all the quite considerable energy on display in the dance documentary Rize, one can't quite escape the sneaking suspicion that it all would have benefited quite enormously from having an actual filmmaker behind the camera, as opposed to the monumentally kitschy artist and photographer David LaChapelle, making his directing debut. Because although it's an undeniably exciting ride for the most part, there's a serious lack of focus and depth here that critically hampers it from becoming much more than an extended infomercial.

Rize is about the style of dance popularized in South Central Los Angeles called "krumping." An almost unbelievably frenetic flurry of movement, it combines a rigorous athleticism with a pulsating combativeness. It seems impossible that the dancers can move this fast - a unique disclaimer at the start ensures us that the film itself has not been sped up or altered in any way - or do so without either breaking something or smashing into each other. But there's a balletic grace to be found in the fury and anger of the moves which can be mesmerizing. Added to that furious physical poetry is the added layer of theatrical distance, as evidenced in the related dance style called "clowning," which krumping grew out of, a literal merging of circus clown-inspired outfits (wigs, face paint and all) with more traditional hip-hop dancing. Much, much time will be spent discussing the exact merits and particulars of krumping and clowning by all involved in the film. Like most tiffs among specialized enthusiasts, however, such arguments, while initially fascinating for their discussion of minutiae, quickly become exhausting and repetitive.

Rize starts off by giving us some canned history on the area, going heavy on the Watts and Rodney King riots and then looking at the rundown neighborhoods today, where many of the kids involved in this dancing do it as an alternative to joining gangs. There's much of interest to be gained here, especially in the character of Tommy the Clown, a kingpin of clown dancing who runs his own "Academy" for dancers and is a mainstay of birthday parties in South Central. Sweet as pie and almost too positive for his own good, Tommy is a bona fide star whom the filmmakers quite naturally fall in love with, to the detriment of the rest of their subjects, most of whom are hardly as interesting.

LaChapelle couldn't shoot an uninteresting roll of film if he tried, and he smartly keeps the look of Rize grainy and immediate, eschewing the high-camp style of his celebrity photo and video projects. But as a documentarian he has plenty to learn, the most important being how to keep at least a modicum of distance from his subject. This is of little concern when he's filming an impromptu street krump session in which dancers fling themselves off a chain-link fence, or in the massive Battlezone competition, where rival teams square off in a downtown arena. But the film can't quite connect when it tries to dig deeper into the lives of its principals or tie in the cathartic release of krumping (similar to a slam pit at a punk show) for the dancers, most of whom live the daily grinding oppression of the urban minority underclass. This inability or unwillingness to go beyond the surface results in a film that takes everything at face value and refuses to ask questions.

As entertainment, Rize is quite successful, but as sociological document, it's barely passable.

Rize above it.


Comments

Rize Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2005

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