In Rize, a documentary in which dance moves come close to looking like a declaration of war, the lean young ”krumpers,” most of them impoverished men and women from inner-city Los Angeles, work their bodies into a wild state of such hectic gyrating motion that they look, literally, as if they’re tearing themselves apart. There isn’t a limb or a muscle group that isn’t in full frenzy; it’s dancing as cathartic seizure. Directed by David LaChapelle, the noted fashion photographer and music-video auteur, Rize opens with ghostly black-and-white footage of the 1965 Watts riots, then video of the 1992 L.A. riots that emerged as a violent response to the Rodney King verdict. I thought I glimpsed the message — that krump, pioneered in the wake of the ’92 riots, embodies the spirit of urban unrest. But then we’re shown something that made my jaw drop: krumpers doing a barely stylized replay of the Rodney King video. A few of them take on the roles of cops, bearing down with invisible billy clubs, and the dancer in the middle is King — the hero rising, as if by a shaman’s magic, from his pummeled stupor.
The impossibly fast, vibratory movements in Rize may be familiar from videos (LaChapelle himself first encountered krump on the set of Christina Aguilera’s ”Dirrty”), but in this case it’s not just the booties that are jiggling. The entire body gets thrust in every direction at once. And here’s the thing: The dancers are all, in movement and spirit, the resurrection of Rodney King. As the blows came down, King was forced to lie there, passive, a man stripped of all action and will. Krump dancing, as captured in Rize, is a fantasy of retaliatory power, rooted in the violent heart of Compton and Inglewood — a stylized revolt against impotence, against meeting the world lying down.
As long as it showcases the art of krump, underscoring the dancers with ominous hip-hop beats, Rize is such a vibrant eruption of motion and attitude that you can forgive the film for being disorganized and too skimpy on street-dance history. We meet Tommy the Clown, the professional party entertainer who’s credited with inventing krump, but we aren’t given a vivid enough sense of what he created in ’92 or how it developed in the hands of other performers over the next decade. That said, the Battle Zone V arena contest that provides the film with its climax could be the krumping version of Fight Club. It has the delirious force of a revival meeting that can’t decide whether it’s straining toward heaven or hell.
As this era’s rough equivalent of the hip-hop docs Wild Style and Style Wars, Rize makes you realize just how innocent and optimistic the break dancing of 20 years ago, with its rounded and symmetrical moves, now looks. Once again, though, I sense crossover potential: If the lives of ’70s teen skateboarders or white trailer-trash rappers are worthy of dramatic treatment, why not a full-scale Hollywood fable about a dazzling young krumper who dances out his angst on the mean streets?