Director David LaChapelle’s Rize DVD Review: An Incredibly Strong Documentary Featuring Mesmerizing Dance

“The footage in this film has not been sped up in any way.”

So begins Rize, the spell-binding documentary by music video director David LaChapelle that chronicles the hip-hop dance phenomenon known as krumping. And by the end of the 82-minute feature, you will find yourself needing another disclaimer reminding you that it was indeed real.

Focusing on the founder of the movement, Tommy the Clown, Rize begins by taking the viewer into the neighborhood in which krumping started – Watts. This is the same neighborhood which has experienced decades of infamous riots, social and economic oppression and endless gang violence. The culture is one that beats down those that call it home, forcing underprivileged children to find some kind of outlet to find community, meaning and purpose.

Enter Tommy the Clown. In the early 90s, during the Rodney King riots, Tommy began a business as a “hip-hop clown.” Doing birthday parties and various other children’s gatherings, Tommy became a cult icon among the youth in the Watts neighborhood and even developed a following.

Instead of being the typical clown with balloon animals, sing-alongs and such, Tommy would teach the kids a new dance form known as clowning. Now, years later, Tommy’s own followers have morphed the dances themselves into what is called krumping.

Various students of Tommy are featured throughout, telling their own stories of finding a place to belong in helping Tommy spread this movement of dancing and entertainment. Many have escaped drugs, gang warfare, and other similar circumstances by becoming a disciple of this man who has given himself to the neighborhood, bringing hope and redemption to places long discarded by government and social agencies.

Currently, there are over 50 clown groups that offer entertainment and dance lessons to learn how to krump. More that that, Rize shows that it’s not so much about dancing as it is about belonging, about having a place to express yourself and be heard.

Dragon, one of Tommy’s primary dancers, tells of his own inability to play sports well and that leaves one without much hope of leaving the neighborhood. But after finding Tommy, he has now been given hope and a reason to live, instead of having to fall into drugs or a gang to find a place to belong.

The dance sequences in Rize are the most stunning pieces and they are everywhere. After just a few minutes of dialogue, it is quickly back to another montage of dance sequences.

And this is a good thing. From young children to adults, the movements are simply indescribable. One literally has to see krumping to believe it and LaChapelle has done an incredible job in compiling the footage. It is clearly an art form in itself.

Rize, however, is less about dance and finds itself showing redemption in a place long forgotten. The result is an astounding look at a new expression of art and the people who have finally been given a place to express themselves.

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