we literally just got home from seeing RIZE at the theater. tiana liked the dancing and was bouncing to the beat in her seat. i liked the film because anything that shows black and brown kids chanelling their creativity and their energy in postive directions make me happy. but, thats not without saying i am so disappointed. i wanted to love this film.
about 3 or 4 years ago i first heard about clown dancing. my ex's little brother was about 12 or 13 and he used to beg me to drive him to anywhere that tommy the clown was going to be. he even danced at a couple of birthday parties with the clowns. he was real good. i first laughed, seeing what i perceived to be little crips and bloods (and many of the guys i was watching were the children of og's) doing stripper dance gyrations and modified c-walkin' to gangsta music. but to see my little brother get down so hard and feel so inspired by it, i knew there was something to it.
a few months later i got a call for an editing job for a project they were calling big top hip-hop. it was a documentary by 2 guys in long beach about clown dancing. i went and saw the footage and was amazed. i worked with the footage for a short time but decided that i wasn't the one to cut it. they wanted lots of special fx and motion grafx (which is not my strength, nor is it my desire to learn fx well.. now im considering playing with some animation and titling motion grafx). i got very hyped watching the footage and called a bunch of my friends at magazines and had many a writer and editor laughing at my pitch - "so these kids paint their faces like clowns and shake it crazier than the harlem shake...". people thought that i was crazy (and truth is, i am). still, no one ran that story...
now i wish i had stuck with those guys and helped them finish their big top DVD. the footage was tighter than Rize. the biggest difference is, i think, that these 2 aspiring filmmakers were from the hood themselves and had participated in the battles, were tight with the dance crews and if they had been a few years younger, they would have been dancing themselves. their footage was raw, initmate, honest, and so engaging. much better than what i saw in Rize.
don't get me wrong the "LaChapelle look" of the beach sequence and the ending montage in the LA riverbed were dope if you like his work.
i have always been annoyed by his images. like this one that was in Vibe a while back:
separate but equal? squeezing my cherry so hard the juice drips out?? okay, so it was a story about outkast and their solo projects and the next page looked like this:
more on my feelings about his work after this rant about rize....
LaChapelle and the DP (director of photography) created a spectacle - i felt like a voyeur looking in and literally down upon the circles of these kids. maybe the cameraman was just too tall and for most shots the camera gazed down to see these kids. there were some wide, low angle shots that showed the dancing but quickly cut upwards above the circle. most of the film was shot in very close shots which helped to make it seem very intimate and revealing. in my own films i always use very intense close-ups (and a good friend told me she felt that my work is so claustrophobic because i lack many wide shots). but the interviews were edited and structured the film in such a way that it felt very heavy-handed and so constructed while only scratching the surface of the story. these are very complicated people with very intense stories living in crazy hoods. the film was set against the backdrop of post-riot energy. the film opens with images of the watts riots and then footage from the 92 LA uprising. but rarely do we ever see shots of the dancers in the hood. we see them at tommy's spot, in their apartments and in some unindentified area dancing but rarely do we see their hoods - why? was the cameraman afraid? why didn't we know more of their lives, their everyday lives? we knew enough to understand the pain and struggle - but only on the surface. we knew the mothers that smoked cracked, the fathers that gang-banged, the grandfather who shot his son and the father who shot himself in the head in the family's back yard - but we saw so little of their "real" lives. just heard quick pieces of the pain. how did the mother get off drugs (beyond "i gave myself to christ...)? where does she work? do these kids go to school? do they work to eat and live? how did tommy (who got robbed and evicted) afford to get the great western forum??? so muc of the story isn't told...
the film's narrative was centered around 2 interviews of guys painting their faces (like warriors preparing for battle). they talk about being oppressed, having nothing to do, needing and the creating this outlet for them.
quickly the film jumps off with a sequence intercutting some unidentified "african" images of tribal dance (i wanted to see how this footage was credited but tiana was getting antsy and wanted to leave). i wanted to see who was in those images and where lachapelle had gotten the images from. so in a very surface and uncritical way, the film embarks on this montage sequence intercutting the krumpers with "africans". no context just simply black bodies, intense, muscular, and sweaty, an object of our voyeristic gaze spanning across time, space and land masses.
i truly felt that rize was a product of racist, anthropological/ethnographic gazes of outsiders peering into the hood. now i'm not callind the filmmakers outright racist - lachapelle gets paid lots of money to objectify women and black and brown bodies.. but i can only imagine... they rolled into watts in their SUVs, unpacked camera equipment, filmed (hoping for no gunfire), then rolled out back to the hollywood hills.
the "beautiful"/LaChappelle classic sequences - on the Santa Monica beach and in the LA river bed seemed to snatch these dancers off the streets of Watts, LB, and Inglewood and plop them in these other landscapes. their bodies were oiled up, like the video hoes on set, and told to shake it fast for the camera.... now i don't know what "really" happened - i don't know if the whole camera crew and production team were white (nor do i think it really matters) but, i think they were so far from the hood that the whole film played out like an ethnographic spectacle intercut with surface interviews of "objects of study" whose stories should have been honored in a documentary, not in a voyeur's spectacle.
why did i expect more? i hate LaChapelle's images:
for most of his work, the bodies seem to just be props.
why must it always be like this? it's always gotta be like hoop dreams.