Fashion photographer David LaChapelle directs and produces this documentary
that records the rise of a dance craze that grew out of one man's response to
the Rodney King riots. Tommy Johnson, aka, "Tommy the Clown," tells how his
energetic, spiritual, syncopated antics at birthday parties in South Central
Los Angeles caught on and became the phenomenon called "Clowning," and how it
evolved into the more aggressive variation, called "Krumping."
With an estimated 50 groups devoted to its expression, the central dramatic
event, after an overlong introduction section, is a competition between the
two vying styles of dancers held at the Inglewood Forum. The exposure and
acclaim of a happy and supportive crowd on their feet with enthusiasm brings
recognition and glory to one side, deep disappointment to the competition,
all gaining by the attention and acclaim for their teams and their best
After that moment in which we see more talents on stage than the ones the film
centers on, harsh realities of life return when Tommy receives a call that
his house has been broken into while the contest was underway.
Amidst personal struggle, the articulation of dreams by the dancers is
potent at times, but ultimately overdone. Speakers explain their attraction
to the new form of expression, repeating its positive influence on their
lives and the ability it has given them to avoid a life of gangbanging and
worse. "What else is there to do?," is an oft repeated refrain.
With dance identities like Dragon, Baby Tight Eyez, Swoop, Daisy, La Nina, Lil
Tommy, Lil C, Tight Eyez, El Nino, Big X and Quinesha --with attitude to
match-- the film showcases several talents that rise to the memorable. Ms.
Prissy, born Marquisa Gardner of Belizean parents, is one of the few who has
had formal dance lessons. This shows in her balletic moves during a church
performance, and it's no surprise that she has credits in music video and
When she and Dragon (Jason Green) let their dark, oiled bodies loose against
a deep blue sky in Morgan Susser's starkly saturated cinematography, and a
powerful back beat of hiphop rythm, it's moving sculpture and pure energy.
This image becomes the iconic billboard for the film and for the free form of
My guess is that this film started with that sequence as part of a music
video that impressed its first viewers to such an extent that it motivated
LaChapelle to turn his core footage into a feature length documentary.
Judging by the result, it was an ill-advised and over-ambitious decision.
Sure, there are stories to tell here, but the ones covered don't sustain the
length of the film. I'd be surprised if it repaid the advertising budget
that's being poured into achieving commercial success.
In a community with fewer options than those of more upscale neighborhoods,
LaChapelle doees illustrate how this phenomenon provides a rallying activity
of positive social value--one that appeals to the creative, the physical, and
the self-identifying needs we all want satisfied. The unrelenting
self-promotion in this footage, however, weighs it down until self-expression
becomes more chest-thumping pretentiousness than artistic accomplishment.
The documentary's principle value is as a report on a community's
constructive retreat from days of violence and confrontation. Perhaps the
biggest surprise is how it grew from something so retro as a clown.
~~ Jules Brenner