The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Rize

I have no idea how to review this movie as to quality, so I’ll stick to some facts and see what comes up. It is a documentary filmed in the poor black sections of Los Angeles County, chronicling the emergence of a relatively new dance style and social dynamic among the “disaffected youth” of the area (as the TV pundits would say). Dance groups have sprouted up as an alternative communal identifier to gangs.

The dance is made up mostly of fast, jerky muscle contractions, with barely camouflaged simulacra of sexual and violent interactions. But just as important as the dance are the dance groups, which have become gang-like in themselves (but without the bloodshed). Different factions and individuals are identified by the face paint they use. There are two major schools, which don’t seem to like each other very much. The clowns use much more facial makeup and are the “original” branch of the artform and social distinction.

The movie does a nice job of exploring the birth of the movement with its founder, an amateur street clown/magician/entertainer at neighborhood parties. He created dance clubs for the kids to have something to do other than gang warfare and he seems to take his role as a peacebringer very seriously. His followers are devoted, but have formed into many smaller groups as the number of participants has grown. A splinter faction has broken off and refers to their dance, their community, and their emotional connection to the whole thing as “krumping”.

As a white, 44-year-old, upper middle class Jewish guy with no rhythm, I felt hard-pressed to see much difference between their styles. But then again, I can’t read spray painted gang graffiti either. A lot of the time, I found myself thinking of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where the various insurgent factions all hate each other as “splitters” ... The People’s Front of Judea, The Judean People’s Front, The Judean Popular People’s Front, The Popular Front of Judea, and so on.

The documentary makers pretty much just show the people in the community through interviews and filmed dance meetings in gyms, streets, playgrounds, and one big showdown spectacle to crown the dominant dance style. There is a fascinating segment showing African tribesmen dancing in stock footage and comparing it to similar moves among the kids in South Central L.A. The filmmakers are careful at this point to avoid any narration or point of view to be expressed, but the editing speaks volumes about their opinion. And running through it all is a running theme of the violence, drugs, death, crime, family stresses, and religious support that the residents live with as an everyday fact and background to their existence.

It’s hard to say whether I liked the movie or not. It’s not out there as an entertainment piece and the dancing is really not meant to please an audience. My perspective was like Anita’s in West Side Story: “You saw how they dance, like they got to get rid of something quick.”

It’s not meant as a social call to action, as the interviewees are too concerned with making it through each day to worry about dreams of changing their environment and the filmmakers don’t give the audience a rallying point of any kind. It is what the residents know, and as one girl says, there is a safety and a comfort in that.

It’s really more of an anthropological recording for the archives and I felt somewhat uncomfortable as a passive observer of these photographic records – as if I were watching a slideshow presentation on the state of the natives by David Livingston back in London after his travels through the Dark Continent. Is that appropriate in this day and age? Technically, the camerawork, sound, and editing are all remarkably good for cinema verite.

Parents Note: I can’t remember specific cursing in the movie, but I feel like it must have been in there from the normal speech patterns of the kids. There is no on-screen violence or nudity, but adult themes and the topic of death is presented with no euphemisms. I don’t think this is inappropriate material for kids, but you would want to be present to explain things and answer questions.

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