Rize Review

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While directing a Christina Aguilera video three years ago, fashion photographer David LaChapelle became fascinated by a radical dance style called krumping. This documentary explores what it means to LA’s roughest neighbourhoods.

★★★★★

If Rize's opening title card didn’t insist “The footage in this film has not been sped up in any way,” you might think krumping was a hoax. Invented by children’s entertainer Tommy The Clown, it’s a hyperkinetic dance form somewhere between breakdancing, performance art, karate and demonic possession, which some see as a vital, creative counterweight to the gun-toting gangs of South Central LA.

It’s a fascinating story, but if great documentaries such as DiG! unfold like novels, Rize skims by like a magazine feature, with explanation outweighing narrative. The pace only quickens when krumpers and ‘clowners’ compete in a dance battle, but it soon flags again. LaChapelle also allows his uplifting message — disadvantaged kids find an alternative to poverty and crime — to overwhelm his protagonists’ personalities.

For all its flaws, it’s thrilling viewing whenever LaChapelle opts to show rather than tell. What you’ll remember for days afterwards are the eyepopping images in the performance segments. In Rize, actions speak far louder than words.

A lively but underdeveloped snapshot of an enthralling subculture. More surface than depth, but what a dazzling surface.