dark side of the force is playing at a theater near you.
I don’t mean The Revenge of the Sith. I mean Rize.
You may not have heard of Rize. It is one of those rare films
that makes it from Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival to the theater
chains. There is no doubt in my mind that it deserved to make the
transition. But I don’t think it will be on the big screen for long.
The audience is too limited.
is a documentary. Its topic: a dance craze that has swept through
South Central Los Angeles and the border city of Inglewood. It may
soon spread to your city. You had better hope it doesn’t.
a look at the preview of coming attractions. I assure you, this
is a cleaned-up version for white audiences, meaning “general” audiences.
When you see the preview, think about which segment of white society
is being targeted: teenagers. What you are about to see would not
separate you from $8.50, plus the price of a box of popcorn.
Yet from the point of view of physiology, the dancing you are about
to see is astounding. “How do they do this?” The preview, like the
movie, begins with an on-screen message:
The images of this film have not been sped up in any way.
What I saw on-screen, I could barely believe. The speed of the dancers,
especially the flailing arms, looks like a camera trick. But when
I shifted my eyes from the dancers to the crowds of onlookers, I
saw no evidence of tampering: no speeded-up motions that were the
mainstay of silent film slapstick comedies. This was not the Keystone
The movie’s introduction begins with film extracts of the 1965 Watts
riot. Next, it moves to films of the 1992 Rodney King riot. We are
shown burned-out neighborhoods. This establishes the unstated background
theme of the movie: the burned-out lives of the residents.
As the camera surveyed the community today, I paid attention to
the real estate. With very few exceptions, the homes looked like
clean, middle-class dwellings. No one mentions that the selling
price of one of these houses is in the range of $600,000. You can
verify this. Go to www.realtor.com.
Put in the zip code for Watts: 90003. There are about 150 homes
for sale: 15 screens. I went to screen 7: the median.
the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King riot, a man identified on-screen
as Tommy the Clown began dressing up as a clown. He is the central
figure in the documentary. He makes a living doing birthday parties
for small children.
As he says, he had been a drug-pusher and had served time in prison.
By adopting the clown’s image and by entertaining small children,
he was able to escape from a lifestyle that was leading to evil.
He was forthright about this.
So far, so good. But as part of his birthday parties, Tommy began
to dance. His form of dancing became popular. Teenagers got involved.
They also dressed up as clowns. They painted their faces. They danced.
Word spread. By the time of the filming of the movie in 2003, there
were 50 clown groups in the area.
I call them the light side of the force.
Two forms of dancing evolved as spin-offs of clown dancing: stripper
dancing and krump dancing. The movie is basically the story of the
rivalry between the krump dancers and the clown dancers.
Stripper dancing is just what it sounds like, but without the poles.
It is lascivious. It is done mainly with the hips. It begins for
the girls at about age 4 or 5. The bodily motions are shocking enough,
but when you see pre-teens doing this, you know what this “art form”
is about: the seduction of the innocent. It begins early.
The movie paints a positive picture of all this. The dancers are
not in the gangs. The gangs generally leave the dancers alone. There
is no turf war involved. There is something to be said the cover
provided by birthday parties for pre-teens.
Surface appearances are deceiving. The faces of the krump dancers
reveal a different picture. The hatred is visible. One of the dancers
said, “It’s like taking out your anger on the dance floor.” He understated
it. The word “like” does not belong in the sentence.
What we see on screen is an artistic affirmation of violence. This
violence escalates as the movie advances to the showdown: a contest
called the BattleZone. Actually, it is BattleZone V. The violence
of the dance floor was not confined to the dance floor, as Tommy
the Clown learned before the evening was over.
You might think, “Oh, well: a bunch of kids getting together in
a school playground to have a good time.” Instead, what you see
is a social phenomenon. BattleZone V was held at the Forum, where
the Lakers used to play. The arena is not quite filled, but it’s
close. If you consider that thousands of fans are standing on the
arena’s floor, the number of attendees was probably comparable to
a sold-out Lakers game.
I grew up in the area. In my senior year in high school, I attended
the Los Angeles City finals in basketball and football. There were
probably fewer attendees at those events in 1959 than there were
at Battlezone V. This was not some peripheral event in the ghetto.
Somebody paid to rent the Forum. I don’t think it was Tommy the
Clown. If it was the producer of Rize, he knew he had a winner
before he wrote the check. You don’t draw a crowd that big with
The continuing theme of this movie is that life in the ghetto of
South Central Los Angeles is generally without hope. It is one long
experience of drugs, gangs, and random murders. One of the girls
in the contest, age 13, was soon shot down on the street. The killers
were just driving by, shooting anyone they saw. They killed her
and the teenage boy with her.
Just before this revelation, one of the teenagers being interviewed
said, “I live in Inglewood. It’s not safe on the streets. You don’t
know if you’re going to get shot.”
Sixty years ago, my family bought a tiny house in Inglewood. It
wasn’t much of a house. It was the post-war era, and houses were
scarce. I walked to school for my first four years. Forty-three
years ago, I again walked those streets as a visitor. The neighborhood
was a standard kids’ place: safe, clean, normal.
It is now a suburb of hell.
The krump dancers believe they are doing something important. They
see dancing as the one bright spot in their lives. But this is not
the kind of dancing that normal kids can do. This is wild, flailing
This is a war against normality.
The filmmaker, who is a professional fashion photographer, splices
in scenes from African dancing. The dancers’ faces are painted.
So are the faces of the kids in the movie. There is violent physical
contact between the African males. We see the same with the teenagers.
The eyes are filled with hate.
The message is this: in the ghetto, life is beyond hope. Teenagers
are seeking meaning and relevance in these new dance forms.
One of the dancers’ mother, who was in jail for drug possession
during her son’s early teens, says that the dancing has helped him.
This is the assessment of the adults interviewed.
One of the girls, who is a church-attender, says that what she is
during the day is not what she is on the dance floor. That is obvious
to anyone who sees her on the dance floor. She is utterly wild.
Eight decades ago, the chief theorist of the Italian Communist Party,
Antonio Gramsci, returned from the Soviet Union. He was convinced
by then that Lenin had been wrong. The Communists were not going
to be successful in overturning the West through proletarian mobilization.
The culture of the West was too resistant, too Christian. He drew
up a new plan: to undermine the West’s culture, setting it up for
Gramsci in fact abandoned Marxism. Marx had identified the mode
of production as the bedrock foundation of society: the substructure.
Culture, philosophy, and politics were part of the superstructure.
Gramsci rejected this analysis, though not openly. He placed culture
as the substructure, resting on religion.
is a visual presentation of a war against culture in the name of
art. It is amazing that these kids are aware of the language of
the arts. They understand modern art criticism’s fundamental presupposition:
there are no standards for art. There are only artists. The artists
claim the cover of artistic creativity for what is visibly a war
against Western culture. So do these kids.
I think the filmmaker shares this assumption. He comes, not as a
critic, but as a fellow artist.
In the midst of $600,000 houses is cultural devastation. In the
suburbs of Los Angeles there is a rival culture.
Crips battle the Bloods with Uzi’s. Clowns battle krumps with dancing.
One thing is clear: most Los Angeles residents are not part of this
confrontation, except as distant bystanders. How distant? About
a 15-minute drive up a freeway.
Only occasionally do we see what is going on. A movie like Rize
is a rarity. It does not get above our radar, but it does get above
our children’s radar.
Parts of the soundtrack are hip-hop songs. The language is X-rated.
We who are not conversant in the language of the ghetto are unaware
of the frontal assault that rap lyrics represent. We do not listen
to rap radio. We may invest in the huge media corporations that
publish this material, but we pay no attention. Apart from Al Gore’s
wife a long time ago and Bill Cosby, no one of much prominence has
taken a stand against it.
We assume that what goes on in the ghetto has nothing to do with
us. But it has a lot to do with setting the standards for our children
Despite hundreds of billions of dollars of government money, despite
decades of tax-funded education, despite all of the rhetoric of
the civil rights movement, life in South Central Los Angeles is
worse than it was in 1964.
I watched Rize in a darkened theater in Mississippi. I suspect
that I was the only white man in the room. I am confident that I
was the only white grandfather. The audience was mildly enthusiastic
about the film. As a one-time resident of Inglewood, I was not.
In 1960, I would have advised a black resident of Mississippi to
move to South Central Los Angeles. There were no lynchings in South
Central Los Angeles. Nobody bombed black churches. The KKK was not
Today, I would advise a resident of Watts to sell his $600,000 house
and move to Mississippi.
The cultures have changed in both regions. It has changed for the
better in Mississippi. If I am to believe Rize, it has changed
for the worse in Watts.
It does not matter how much government money is pumped into South
Central Los Angeles. It does not matter how many school reforms
are proposed and even funded. Hell is not a matter of a lack of
funding. It is a matter of vision.
The movie does not tell us what “krump” means. One contributor to a Rize-based forum did.
and figures were used. Krump is a acronem…… it means that
each letter has a meaning, and for those who dont know krumping
is a religous dance, but some people have lost faith.
I am in agreement with the contributor. This is indeed a religious
dance with a religious worldview. It is the religion of revolution.
would have been more accurately titled as Raze.