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Rize Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/01/2005

A movie that does almost nothing but show a bunch of people dancing wildly just doesn’t do it for me.  That is essentially the premise of Rize though.

David LaChapelle is probably one of the more famous celebrity photographers around.  He transitioned his photography skills into directing music videos, helming videos for artists like Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, No Doubt, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Moby, and more.  Now he is making movie documentaries, and his first subject is over the world of clowning, or krumping (an offshoot of the original dance)…a weird form of extremely fast dancing where the participants shake about and bounce their butts up and down.  The movie starts out with scenes of the 1965 Watts Riots and shifts to 27 years later, when the 1992 South Central Los Angeles Riots occurred.  Tommy Johnson, a.k.a. Tommy the Clown, developed clown dancing as an alternative to the violence that he had witnessed on the streets of South Central L.A., Watts, Englewood, and Compton.  He was an ex-con who started dressing as a clown and performing this dance for children’s birthday parties.  He considers his stay in jail as being one of the best things that ever happened to him, because if he hadn’t been arrested, he would be dead now.  The clowning caught on like wildfire in his neighborhood, and suddenly everyone wanted to clown dance.  They started clowning groups of their own, and according to the movie, there are currently around 50 clown-dancing groups around the country.  Most of the participants paint their face like a clown, and it becomes like a war paint.  Krumping looks like stylized fighting (kind of like moshing for metalheads), but both krumpers know that there is no malice involved.  Another form of clowning is called stripper dancing…and the dance looks just the way that it sounds.  They learn the dance at Tommy the Clown’s Hip Hop Academy, and there is an annual dance off, called Tommy the Clown’s Battle Zone, where they compete for championship clowning belts.

We meet some of the more seasoned clown dancers that followed in Tommy’s footsteps.  Larry, a.k.a. Larry Berry, is 21 and worked with Tommy when he was 12.  He finds clowning to be better than playing sports or joining a gang.  Dragon, a.k.a. Jason Green, shares Larry’s sentiment, and calls the dancing a “ghetto ballet.”  Tight Eyez, a.k.a. Ceasare Willis, is one of the founders of krumping, along with Lil C.  Baby Tight Eyez, a.k.a. Christian Jones, lives with his pastor in their church and is a relative of Tight Eyez.  He dances with Tight Eyez and Lil C.  Miss Prissy, a.k.a. Marquisa Gardner, is considered “The First Lady of Krumping.”  Her rival is La Nina, and they compete against each other in krumping competitions.  Probably the saddest story is about 15-year-old Quinesha “Lil Dimples” Dunford.  She aspired to be a clown dancer, but she was killed by random gunfire while coming out of a store after buying a pop.  They give her a dedication at the end of the credits.

The dancing is interesting at first, but it gets boring after awhile.  The slowest part is a scene where they parallel the dancing with the dancing of African Bushmen.  It is intriguing at first, but after dragging it on for too long, you want to change the channel (only you don’t have a remote in a movie theater.)  The sad testimonials are depressing and the only thing that they have to cheer themselves up is clown dancing, and as I have just stated, it is boring to watch for an extended period.

The most interesting part of the movie occurs near the end.  After the Clowns beat the Krumpers 7-4 at Battle Zone V (honestly…both dances looked exactly the same, so I don’t know how they scored it), Tommy comes home to find his place ransacked.  After calling the police, he holds his head in his arms and cries.  The only thing that cheered him up was the little kids who were concerned about his well-being.  It was a touching scene.

Rize might appeal to you if you are a fan of clowning, krumping, or any of the variations of the dance.  LaChapelle was introduced to the dance while working on Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video.  He then directed a 25-minute short in 2003 for Britain’s Channel 4 called Clowns in the Hood.  The next year he did a short called Krumped, which won a prize at the Sundance Film Festival.  This movie is essentially the feature length version of Krumped, and maybe that short’s 24-minute length would have been perfect to sustain my interest in the full-length movie.  At 84 minutes, it became rather dull to watch.  Check it out if you are a dancer and you might be interested in clown dancing; for me, it didn’t rize up to my expectations.


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