Rize begins with the promise that "The Footage in this Film Has Not Been Sped Up in Any Way," which accurately sets the expectation of some impressive sights. Rize documents the culture and cultural significance of clowning and krumping, two modern forms of hip-hop dance. Amid the rampant crime of Los Angeles, hope springs eternal. "Ghetto celebrity" Tommy the Clown (proprietor of Tommy's Hip-Hop Clown Academy) was a drug-dealer and a con, but explains, "God gave me opportunity...I changed my life."
The cultures on display will be news to most viewers. The mother of one of the clowns calls Watts "the lion's den, the pit of snakes," but explains, "We got all the gangs on one side and all the clowns on the other side." Though Tommy is a pioneer (according to the film), his success has made him a target of the fifty-odd competing clown groups, an economic battle that takes gladiatorial form in an annual competition; director David La Chapelle documents Battle Zone V, an epic clown battle in the Great Western Forum.
LaChapelle also elucidates the world of "krump" dancing, an aggressive, near-epileptic style that changes by the day. Winding through the ghettos of L.A. to take in dance sessions and talk to people living the life, La Chapelle chooses an aesthetic that, at times, resembles a ski movie or skateboarding video: long montages of booty-popping (slo-mo is fair game) sporadically interrupt traditional documentary interviews and observation. Perhaps there's not yet enough perspective for Rize to track the histories of krumping and clowning, as Riding Giants did for surfing and Dogtown and Z-Boys did for a movement in skateboarding.
Instead, La Chappelle puts the dances in a historical context. La Chapelle begins with news reels of the 1965 Watts riots and video of the 1992 Rodney King riots, and ends with an MLK quotation ("one day this nation is going to rise up"). "This was already implanted in us, at birth," says one interview subject, and La Chappelle obligingly intercuts archival footage of African tribal dance with modern footage of krump. La Chappelle's editorializing successfully projects the case made by his subjects, for hip-hop dance as an expression of the African collective unconsciousness, an expression of the anger born of oppression, and an expression of faith to overcome hardship.