Bulletin Board Archive

Topic: A burst of movement; hope is on the rise LA Times

  1. Jun 12, 2005 09:42pm by NRG - livin the art that is life ! www.64111clinic.com fam www.nrginmotion.com massage www.myspace.com/nrginmotion world community Location: havenhouse KCK/ 64111 Clinic 4 Life
    [url]http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/cl-ca-rize12jun12,0,2068142.story?coll=cl-movies-top-right[/url] [img:ec43daf981]http://www.calendarlive.com/media/photo/2005-06/17968097.jpg[/img:ec43daf981] “These are kids,” LaChapelle says, “who created a chance, who created their own arts program and clubs.” (David LaChapelle / Lions Gate Films) In 'Rize,' David LaChapelle tracks the vivid transformation of raw lives and anger into the wild beauty of 'krumping' [b:ec43daf981]By Carina Chocano, Times Staff Writer[/b:ec43daf981] "Rize," David LaChapelle's powerful documentary about a galvanizing dance movement created on the streets of South-Central Los Angeles, opens with news footage from the 1965 riots in Watts. Over images of burning buildings and plundered stores, a newscaster's voice, carefully modulated to express more confidence than concern, describes the chaos. "Civil rights leaders were quick to deplore the unbridled lawlessness," intones the disembodied voice, "and Martin Luther King vowed to do all in his power to prevent a recurrence, in Los Angeles or anywhere." Of course, a recurrence was not prevented, most infamously in Los Angeles in 1992, and the scenes that follow the Watts footage are striking in their similarity. But the second sequence culminates in a bizarre dance beside a row of parked cars, where two women pretend to beat a third with invisible batons. The victim hunches over, her hands clasped behind her back. A fourth woman joins in, and together they pound the air with their fists. Ten years later, neighborhood kids enact a version of the dance, only it's more ritualized and abstracted, and they've painted their faces like tribal warriors. As a photographer and music video director, LaChapelle is well known for his surreal and often outrageous portraits of celebrities (which draw from influences as diverse as Renaissance painting and pornography), as well as for his glossy, color-saturated fashion ads and campy, sexy videos for the likes of Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez. What he's not generally known for is his social realism or socially committed art. So when the riot footage and opening credits of "Rize" cede to images of a large black man in a clown suit and rainbow wig dancing in the street — a strange jumble of familiar iconography— you might assume that LaChapelle made him up. He didn't. Tommy the Hip-Hop Clown is the creation of Tommy Johnson, who invented his new persona in 1992, after a friend asked him to perform at a child's birthday party. Soon, Tommy became an Inglewood kid-party-circuit fixture, performing with children he had trained. As the numbers of clowns increased, and clown groups formed on their own, Tommy founded Battle Zone, a competitive venue for dancers to compete in front of huge audiences. The ticket sales from Battle Zone allowed Tommy to found Tommy's Hip-Hop Clown Academy. The academy no longer operates, but for years neighborhood kids went there to learn the exuberant art of hip-hop clowning. Almost a decade and a half after he first put on a clown suit, Tommy's influence in the community is immense. The founder of a subculture that offers one of the few alternatives to gang involvement, he's also considered the artistic father of "krump," an aggressive, cathartic, freestyle dance created by some of his original pupils as an expression of the frustration and pain of their systematic oppression. [b:ec43daf981]* Portrait of a neighborhood[/b:ec43daf981] The film, which opens June 24, unfolds chronologically, tracing LaChapelle's gradual involvement with the community. Originally setting out to learn more about this original, visually stunning dance form, LaChapelle, who is now based in Los Angeles, wound up creating a moving and inspiring portrait of a dispossessed neighborhood and a group of kids determined to rise above their circumstances. "In September of 2002, I was working on the 'Dirrty' video for Christina Aguilera," recalls LaChapelle, a tall, soft-spoken guy with big, sleepy eyes. "And backstage there was a room where all the extras were. My friends Tone and Rich Talauega were working on the choreography on this video, and they came up to me on the first day we were shooting and said, 'Dave, you would love this dance these kids are doing in the "hood." ' "I went to the room, where there was music playing, and saw them and lost my mind." The dancers were doing what looks like a manic, desexualized, sped-up version of a lap dance, called "the stripper dance." "It was something I'd never seen before, and my first thought was I wanted other people to see it. I think when you see something beautiful, your tendency is to share it. I just thought, I have to film this." The following weekend, LaChapelle and his small crew, which included the Talauega brothers and director of photography Morgan Susser, drove down to South Los Angeles, to Tommy's academy. "It was in this strip mall, this little broken-down ghetto strip mall full of vacant stores. Only three of the stores were occupied. There was a beauty parlor, Tommy's academy, and what we pulled up in front of — a place called Payless Caskets," LaChapelle says. "I'm looking at this casket store illuminated by our headlights, and I'm seeing these kids walking around with clown makeup on, and I don't know what is going on." "Rize" goes beyond chronicling a dance movement to paint a moving portrait of a neighborhood and the class divide in America. "It might as well be another country," LaChapelle says of South Los Angeles. In the movie, he alternates dance footage with interviews featuring Tommy, Lil C, Dragon, Tight Eyez, Miss Prissy, Lil Tommy, Larry, Baby Tight Eyez and Quinesha Dunford, a 15-year-old girl who, along with her friend, was shot and killed on the street while walking to the store one day during the course of the production. What comes across in interviews, as well as in the jaw-dropping filmed krump sessions, in which face-painted dancers move with a fervor at once violent and religious, is a mixture of anger, determination and hope. [b:ec43daf981]* 'L.A. is so segregated'[/b:ec43daf981] Unlike the recently released, much-discussed L.A. race opera "Crash," "Rize" avoids stereotypes, facile conclusions and dime-store ironies. By following the story without preconceptions, LaChapelle was able to capture an organic phenomenon in constant flux and, through it, gain a deeper understanding of the lives of the people involved. "It's difficult to film a documentary in South-Central and visually illustrate the idea of poverty. There are blue skies and palm trees; it just doesn't look menacing like New York did back in the day. But what struck me going out there is that in New York you can be in the worst neighborhood and still be just 15 minutes from Fifth Avenue. Everybody shares sidewalks and subways," he says. "But L.A. is so segregated. You go to South-Central, and you realize there's nowhere to eat unless you want fast food. It took us 45 minutes one time to find something to eat, because I'm vegetarian. And there's nothing for the kids to do outside of school, unless you play sports. "When Quinesha got shot, the thing that shocked me the most was that her family felt the sorrow as deeply as any family whose child is murdered. But what was lacking was the sense of outrage. Why was there no outrage? Because it's accepted as a fact of life. Had that little girl been shot in Beverly Hills with her 13-year-old friend, we would all know their names, it would be on TV for weeks. They were on TV one night and that was it." Growing up in Connecticut, LaChapelle took advantage of every art program available to him. He attended North Carolina School of the Arts, then enrolled in the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League, and was given his first professional job — shooting for Interview magazine — by Andy Warhol. "I was a terrible student," says LaChapelle of his pre-art days. "I had lots of problems. Art saved me. I honestly believe that many people in prison today are artists who just never had the opportunity to develop skills, to develop their talents. "These are kids who created a chance," LaChapelle adds, "who created their own arts program and clubs. And they are kids from the hardest families. Three of these kids were born in prison, to mothers who are still in prison. Some of their fathers are original gangsters, founders of the Crips and the Bloods. This is not soft, middle-class." [b:ec43daf981]The birth of 'krump'[/b:ec43daf981] I first saw "Rize" at its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where an earlier short by LaChapelle, "Krumped," had premiered the year before. Without knowing it, I'd sat directly in front of an entire row full of the film's subjects. The girls behind me (the boys were farther up front) spent a good part of the movie laughing, calling out and crying. They reacted so strongly that I thought they were seeing it for the first time. Later, Miss Prissy explained that it wasn't the first time they'd seen it. The emotional reaction was a recurring thing. "I never get tired of watching that. I could watch it all day," she said. "The first time I watched it, I was so excited because, who knew that us dancing in our backyards, painting our face, would get us on the big screen? The second time I saw it, it hit me. When I thought of the struggles that all of us went through. It's like watching Tight Eyez's life story. Watching Lil C's story. Watching Tommy get snatched from the ground up [his house was robbed while he was hosting a Battle Zone night] and still rebuild, I was, like, this is reality. This is our reality. I mean, look at the pressure we put on our bodies while we're doing it. Some people can go into shock dancing like this. And we take that risk because this is the way we get this anger out. This is the way we express ourselves. This is the way we spread the message." The next day, I met 15 or so of the films' subjects in the Heineken lounge, basically a habitable advertisement on Park City, Utah's Main Street, where Carmen Electra and Paris Hilton could be glimpsed helping themselves to free swag. The "Rize" kids clustered around a table. In previous days, they'd been approached by people from all over the world, telling them how much they loved what they do. In the year since "Krumped" was first shown, several of the dancers have gone on to appear in music videos for artists such as Missy Elliott. Still, the Park City lifestyle is far from an everyday experience. "We're at Sundance," says Lil C, "and the film is screening and it's doing well and people are coming up to us and we're getting all this attention. But when Sundance is over, we go back to L.A. and we return to our normal lives, and nothing changes. That's the hard part. People need to get what goes on when you leave this sense of camaraderie here and we all go home and go back to our neighborhoods, where we feel boxed in, continuing the struggle." Lil C was one of the creators of krump dancing along with Tight Eyez and Dragon. "We all used to dance with Tommy the Clown, and he gave us our fundamentals," explains Lil C. "How to entertain, how to perform, how to keep the crowd's eye on you. And then it was like going from seventh grade to high school. Tommy has the realm of performance and entertainment locked down, so all the kids want to be a part of his crew. But he can't accommodate them all. So we created an avenue to perform and show their talents. We outgrew him, like you're supposed to. Suddenly our dancing started to become less entertaining, and people who saw it shied away from it because it seemed so aggressive." The dance style quickly erupted beyond parties and performances and into backyards, rec rooms, ball courts and Battle Zone. Later, for some, it took a spiritual turn, not surprising since krump is clearly related to the kind of movement that happens in charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Dragon, who first began krumping in church, is now studying to be a minister. "It's basically a geographical problem," Lil C says. "Where we live there aren't many opportunities for us. You can either go one way or the other. We didn't like any of the alternatives that were being presented to us, so we created our own alternative. Which was: We're going to dance this aggression out, because there are no opportunities where we live. So we created something out of nothing." The more the movement became about expression, the more spiritual and community-oriented it became. Older members of the original crew recruit young, at-risk kids and become mentors to them, as Tight Eyez did for his surrogate little brother, Lil Tight Eyez, who was born in jail. "Tommy couldn't reach everybody at the same time. So we grabbed the net, so we could recruit people. Krumping is a real spiritual thing. It's a God thing. We all have definite struggles, and if we didn't have God, we wouldn't be krumping. We wouldn't have anything to dance for. There wouldn't be that much power behind it if we had no struggle. But when I saw that movie, I know that we can make it. I have more faith than I had before, seeing that we're still here, still together." Adds Miss Prissy: "Look, when you come to Los Angeles, you see palm trees in the ghetto. Palm trees to me say peace. We have no peace. You go to Hollywood, you see these silicone-filled women, you see these people dressed up in glamour, and then they go home and face reality. I feel like in L.A. you always meet a person's representative before you meet them. And here, there is no representative. This is us all day, every day, 24 hours a day, face painted, ghetto children. We bring everybody up. We're about to rise."