Monday, January 23, 2006

Superstars Clowning and Krumping

Kim and I watched David LaChapelle's documentary Rize last night. For those who haven't seen or heard of it, Rize it is concerned with Clowning and Krumping- two types of dancing borne out of South Central Los Angeles, and specifically a response by one dancer (Tommy the Clown) to the Rodney King riots of 1992.

If you saw any of the previews, or read the article in the New York Times Magazine last summer, you get the idea of what the documentary is all about: Kids with nothing to look forward to, opting to dance at birthday parties, and competitions in lieu of joining one of the ubiquitous gangs in the area. The reality of premature and violent death is so prevalent in these kids' world that a local strip mall houses Payless Caskets- a cut-rate casket showroom with the signage of a dollar store. The owner glibly tells one of the kids to make sure that his parents know where Payless Caskets is located in case/when they need a coffin for their son. In spite, or maybe as a result of such palpable death, the kids create their own alternate existence through their dancing. They do this dancing daily, and it evolves at a such a rapid pace that the dancers claim to be able to detect if someone hasn't danced for even one day.

The dancing is nothing less than wild. With their rapid-fire-twitching-hips, convulsing torsos, flailing arms, these kids look as though they could be handling serpents and drinking strychnine in some LA shrine- one tucked into a sprawling and unmistakably, LA spillway . LaChapelle does these kids a favor and makes them super-saturated superstars of their small, dangerous world.

LaChapelle asserts the dances' influences by including archived footage from the two riots that have come to define life in South Central LA (Watts Riots of '65 and the King Riots of '92), as well as images of African dancers preparing for, and participating in traditional dance ceremonies. These ceremonies show the African dancers moving in ways not dissimilar to the kids in LA. I can imagine that his inclusion of the images from Africa caused consternation for some - LaChapelle does not frame the inclusion of the images with dialogue from an anthropologist, or other specialist, but instead goes out on a limb and assumes that in 2005 we, as a "First World" culture, fat from consuming thousands of sophisticated images daily, can make the leap with him and understand how kids could go from being exposed to African heritage, to assimilating aspects of that culture into their own. I think this is the subtle grace of the film- we don't need a specialist to tell us that people learn from seeing. Everyone, and everything we know is living proof that we are a sum of our parts. We are mash-ups of every image, sound, taste, and touch that we consume.

No comments: