When MTV creates a reality series out of krumpin', or Fox American Idol-izes it, David LaChapelle will be able to proudly display his film Rize as the flag he planted before corporations profited the street-based dance style to death.
Krumpin', or clownin', comprises moves like Crip Walkin', Harlem Shakin', St. Louis Chicken Headin' and Dirty South Bankhead Bouncin' stewed together like gumbo, sprinkled with basic B-boy and anything you might catch from the Shona Sharif African Dance Ensemble.
It began with Tommy the Hip Hop Dancing Clown, a former hustler/banger whose saving grace was jail. According to Tommy, growing up in South Central Los Angeles yields two futures: jail or grave -- the latter evidenced in a scene shot at Payless Caskets where you can layaway your eternal resting spot. We believe Tommy because the only stories we receive about SCLA involve drugs, gangs and riots. Even LaChapelle opens his documentary with footage from the L.A. riots of 1965 and 1992.
Then we meet 2002 Tommy -- a friendly, rotund, deep cola-complexioned brother who paints and powders his face white by trade. As a rent-a-clown, Tommy performs at birthday parties and at street-dance competitions, winning hundreds of youth into his new clown movement. The recruits make up their faces, becoming new persons with super-human aggression and larger-than-life identities. As mere mortals, their lives are trivialized, and criminalized, just for being young, black and poor. But once they get krumped, they dance-step into a world where the anger born of crack, gun violence, absent parents, malnourishment and stigma is released in a frenzied display of the war going on within each body and soul.
It's escape. Sadly, though, not an escape from all reality, as when Tommy finds his home has been burgled while he attended a dance tournament. Here, we literally see the tears of a clown -- tears obscured by paint that doesn't allow the audience to really see his blues and torment.
LaChapelle has shot enough hip-hop music videos and magazine spreads to prove his erotic fascination with African bodies. Such impulses surface sporadically throughout the film, where it's obvious that these sweaty, sinewy bodies have been congregated under berry-blue skies for no other reason than LaChapelle thought it was a really cool shot.
However, years ago DJ Quik wrote a song, "Just Like Compton," about how gang culture metastasized across America into cities like Pittsburgh. Some attribute the export to the glamorous videos of N.W.A. and movies such as Colors. If that's true, hopefully Rize will rise higher than just LaChapelle's fetish and spread with the same velocity to reverse the gang influence. I think we'd all rather see our kids dancing in the street like clowns than ducking bullets.