Apr 27, 2006

Rize and Sucker Free City.

I have had the chance to check out a few documentaries and indy films that I missed along the way. I wrote about Dark Days - which artfully tracked a subterranean community in NYC. I recently watched Rize, and Sucker Free City.

There’s something about docs that take place in L.A. The last one I saw was OT: Our Town, which tracked a teacher’s effort to bring theater to her inner city high school class in Compton. That was a good film, for what you’d expect - these youth take a piece of celebrated American literature, which talks more to a sometimes imagined nostalgia of small town white America, and make it their own through the support of a Teach-for-America teacher. It is definitely impressive to see these young people integrate their expression about their town through this piece of literature and through performance. While I definitely enjoyed and went through the highs and lows with the students, I felt like I’d been through it before. Unfortunately, there was also something a little Stand and Deliver-ish about the whole thing - and it feels like we’ve seen this in so many films. The outsider with the plan comes in and teaches everyone math, or chess, or ballroom dancing, or theater, and it’s a story about triumph in inner city hell. It’s a useful and valued archetype, I guess. Still, taking what is considered an American classic and showing that it’s relevant for our new towns, our new ‘hoods, our hidden worlds that exist within our known cities... I guess that has its own merits.

Our Town was an above average film, but Rize, on the other hand, is a great film. It looks at young people in Los Angeles who have created an art form - the schools of dance called clowning and krumping. Rize takes a look at the beginning of this dance movement, which arose from innovation and necessity in the inner city. I just loved the music and the feeling of the film, and rather than try to capture it here, just a few notes before you check it out yourself. First, the film didn’t over-romanticize anything. It just felt like it was showing you a small piece of the unique culture that has developed in this part of the country, how it was seen as a survival tool and a family for youth and others who took to it, and hinted at what was to come (krumping has gained national prominence through mainstream exposure in hip-hop videos, etc). But more than the pop culture element, the filmmaker definitely gives you a sense of how the form is connected in some way to the community itself. It’s hard to explain, but I definitely recommend the film. You even get a brief moment with an Asian American krump family called Filipino Rice Tracks. But regardless, I felt pretty satisfied at the end of the film - like I’d actually learned something, been taken on a ride for an hour and a half, and I had a different respect for a form that I’d seen, but not really understood for anything more than something like popping or b-boying.


While The Inside Man is the film that folks have been talking about recently, Sucker Free City is a Spike Lee Joint that came out last year for Showtime. It takes a look at 3 young men in San Francisco - a.k.a. the Sucker Free (though this a.k.a. should apparently be “Sucka Free“). The most compelling story is of the black man that’s part of a local gang in the HP (Hunter’s Point) which titles over the opening of the film explain is the site of some of the worst environmental hazards in residential neighborhoods in the United States, is the residence of a predominantly black population, and has a much higher rate of cancer than the rest of S.F. His story intermingles with the white kid from another, impoverished district in S.F. (the Mission) that is gentrifying really quickly, when said white kid has to move into the HP. Their interaction crosses with the Chinese dude... aww forget it. Just see the film yourself if you’re still interested.

As an outsider to the Bay area, I took this film as an opportunity to learn something about the cultures/subcultures in the area, like I’ve used some of the films on LA (with a healthy dose of skepticism, of course). But this film felt like such a particular slice, and though I was initially excited that there was an Asian element to the film, it felt pretty shallow. The character wasn’t very compelling - not at all like the African American character. I liked some elements of it, but it seemed like the writing could have been tighter (Asian American screenwriter, so that’s interesting), and it just didn’t feel like I was getting into anything more than three stories of individuals - my entry into their worlds felt like less than a window, and their interactions also didn’t really hold water. Ultimately, it felt like Spike Lee and Alex Tse were in over their heads, trying to make a point about gangs and communities, but not really getting anywhere because one person seems like he’s alone, one person seems like he’s the peon/bag boy for a larger crime syndicate, and the last one, who’s actually part of what could be called a gang, is in the middle of so many different stories that it’s hard to really understand the character’s arch in the film. So as a broad brushstroke about some of the things that different people face/see in the S.F... I guess it could be passable. As an allegory, or even a representation of anything, I don’t know if it does justice to real stories.

And to top it off, this review from a reader at the Internet Movie DataBase reminded me of some of the issues I had. Especially the fact that the only Latino in the film is supposed to be Puerto Rican - that seems so New York that it stuck out immediately. Not to mention that he didn’t actually seem to have any back-up or group, though he and the white kid talked as if there was something there. So that was questionable. Nevertheless, an interesting film to check out, if you don’t have to pay extra for it.

This has been a ”not quite a review“ squareroots desi production.

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