I told you it was improbable. But it's also true. Clown dancing, and its offshoot krumping, was created in response to the 1992 L.A. riots and has grown to become a force in the lives of the kids growing up in South Central L.A. The kids living in the aftermath needed to express some pretty real emotions, and they wanted more choices than sports or gangs. Clown dancing gave them a new way to express these feelings. For those of us living stable lives in a stable community, the idea of dressing as a clown and staging mock battles through dance might seem absurd. Wait, why the caveats? Dressing as a clown and staging mock battles is absurd. But to the kids in this film, clown dancing is their best shot at not getting shot.
That intense absurdity drew LaChappelle to this film, and it is LaChappelle's understanding of what makes the absurd beautiful that moves this film along so well. LaChappelle is best known as a photographer with a taste for the bizarre. He's the artist that Rush Limbaugh has nightmares about.
Let's say I asked you to imagine a portrait of your grandmother; to most people, that would conjure up a kindly woman sitting at Sears. To LaChappelle, the same portrait would capture her riding an alligator while five unicorns wrestle in the background. LaChappelle, in other words, is nuts. He's over the top regardless of the subject matter: a story about teenagers cheating death by dancing all night in clown makeup is simply vintage LaChappelle. His experience as a photographer is evident in almost every frame. Brightly lit community centers feel moody and tight, garish church rec rooms become outsider art installations. OK, so I'm biased toward the look of a movie over its content -- I am an art director after all -- but this is, hands down, the most beautiful film I've seen in years. LaChappelle's visual savvy makes this movie exceptional.
However cursory its attempt at a storyline, RIZE is an amazingly beautiful sneak peek at a world very far from here. Just be sure to watch it on a big TV.