Noted photographer David LaChapelle makes his feature directorial debut with this documentary on a new facet of street culture in South Central Los Angeles. In 1992, after long-simmering racial tensions in Los Angeles erupted in riots following the verdicts in the Rodney King trial, a man named Tommy Johnson sought to spread a new message in a new way to the city’s African-Americans.
Creating a character called Tommy the Clown, Johnson developed an act that combined hip-hop-flavored comedy and dancing with an anti-gang and anti-violence message. Johnson’s performances became wildly popular in South Central — so much so that at one point, 50 different groups inspired by Johnson’s example were performing in the area. In time, Johnson’s loose-limbed dance style inspired a new wave of hip-hop street dancing called “krumping,” a wildly athletic style in which arms, legs, and bodies fly with a frenzied abandon that moves at almost inhuman speeds.
Rize follows the birth of clown dancing and krumping in South Central, and records how many young people have adopted the dance as a style of competition, offering a safer and healthier alternative to the gang culture that has long dominated Los Angeles. Rize premiered at the 2005…