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RIZE (PG-13) (2005)

Lions Gate Films

Official Site

Director: David LaChappelle

Producers: David LaChappelle, Ellen Jacobsen-Clarke, Marc Hawker, Rich Talauega, Ishbel Whitaker

Written by: Clowns & Krumps

Cast: Also Clowns & Krumps


For a guy who can’t dance a step, I’m a little bit surprised to find myself liking (or loving) this movie. Rize is a documentary of the lives and movements of poor black people in LA. This is the story of neighborhoods razed by race riots, corrupted by crime and violence, and hollowed out by poverty. But some people don’t stay down. They rize up.

Before we go any further I cannot in good conscience avoid admitting that I am white. Very white. In many ways my whiteness made me feel slightly uncomfortable writing this review (a total of one dancer in the movie was white), but Rize struck deep in my heart, as if it were made for white people to see. So go out there and watch this movie, fellow honkies. Don’t be afraid.

Enter Tommy the Clown, a reformed drug dealer who loves makeup and hip-hop. His love for the children and high-quality entertainment makes him an instant celebrity in the ghetto. Complete with the baggy jumpsuit and rainbow ’fro, Tommy dances to hip-hop at parties for the kids. The parents and children talk about how hanging with Tommy keeps them focused on the positive and away from the negative. Instead of tangling with gangs or drugs, they paint their faces and clown around with Tommy. He develops a crew of loyal clowns (Larry, Lil Tommy, Big X, La Nina). Then we hear about the clowning veterans (Tight Eyez, Dragon, Baby Tight Eyez, Lil C, Miss Prissy), who have developed their own style of dance called krumping. They dance far more aggressively, claiming a relation to tribal dancing. They slam, fall, shove, climb, flip, and jerk around fast enough to warrant the note at the beginning of the movie stating that no film has been sped up. The dancing is just as serious to them as it is to Tommy; it’s their religion and hobby combined. Suddenly dark clouds loom overhead and there is a serious danger of seeing a remake of You Got Served as a dance battle breaks out, Clowns versus Krumps. Fortunately the dance battle had a lot more dignity to it, even though it was crew versus crew, winner take all.

As I stand in judgment on this film, I try to imagine it as a diamond in the rough. The story didn’t have a logical sense of order or continuity, but that’s probably because it was ordered chronologically. This doesn’t usually make for good storytelling. For a documentary, the camera work was fantastic. However, sometimes LaChappelle’s history of shooting models shone through and the dancers seemed more like sculptures than humans (but maybe I’m just a fatty).

All in all, as someone not horribly concerned with dancing, I found there to be just too much of it. Unless you really, really like dancing, you’ll feel the same way, too. It added unnecessary length, especially at the end. But I adapted because Rize is about real life and real souls, and David LaChappelle did a damn good job of baring those souls on film. I’m a bleeding heart for stories about people living healthy lives in unhealthy situations. If you can’t appreciate spiritual gold, this movie isn’t for you. As I said earlier, this is a really important movie for white folk to see. It’s important because it will take away every Hollywood conception of what ghetto life is all about, and it will show you real people living real life (unless I’ve been deceived). You live with them throughout this movie, feeling their happiness, their sorrow, their excitement, their anger, their glory, and their bliss. And then you know them. And then you’re just a little less ignorant. Every little bit counts. See this movie with someone you’re comfortable with, because there are a lot of emotions in this film.

—Duncan Wright

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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