Mark Klasfeld’s L.A. Riot Spectacular centers on one of most controversial and hotly debated abuses of authority and power, the beating of Rodney King at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department on March 4, 1991. A subsequent trial cleared responding officers Koon and Powell of any wrongdoing. Dissenters, however, felt the act was a racially motivated and an unjustified use of excessive force.
Warning: It is best to come right out and say this film is an over-the-top representation of actual events. Just trust me on this and just go along for the ride.
This Is the City...
The film opens on a slow day for news and crime in the city of Angels. This is the proverbial calm before the storm. Then the beating occurs, a videotape surfaces and the whole world sees an ugly moment in American history. Such things happen throughout the world; the King beating was merely one of the first instances caught on tape and released to the public.
To the public, it’s an outrage, but to the press, police, politicians, and lawyers, it’s just another day at the office. Klasfeld portrays this blasé attitude by staging the media bidding war for the tape as an auction. He characterizes the beating of a perpetrator, ethnic or otherwise, as a condoned police rite of passage. Officers Koon and Powell’s are even inducted into a hall of fame, of sorts.
Klasfeld essentially points out that the actions of the press, politicians, police and lawyers all smack of opportunism on the heels of a social injustice. The public did not know who to hold accountable, or how. As such, it expresses its rage and resorts through rioting, looting and violence. It’s reactionary and it doesn’t make sense, but neither do the events that got us here.
Comedy = Tragedy + Time
Nearly a decade in the writing, Klasfeld undertook this project to see if things had really changed. Despite the farcical tone and the satirical treatment of these events, this film, like Crash, is a serious and admirable attempt to address our feelings about race as individuals and as a society.
Because Crash was a drama and The L.A. Riot Spectacular is comic satire, a viewer might take the latter less seriously. It’s not that the underlying issues or events themselves are funny; it’s just that humor helps us deal with these ugly truths and facilitate change, perhaps because no one wants to be the butt of an unflattering joke.
After the Crash
With Crash, Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco provided a grim and unvarnished look at the varying levels of racism and opportunism that color our attitudes as either “Caucasian” or “ethnic-American.” The characters and their feelings ran the gamut from Ryan Phillippe’s well-intentioned rookie cop to Matt Dillon’s deeply embittered veteran cop. Crash allowed its audience to move away from denial toward acknowledging that we sometimes feel negatively about each other for no rational reason.
If the examples in Crash didn’t reach you, maybe The L.A. Riot Spectacular will. Maybe the humor will allow you to drop your guard long enough to think about the driving issues and events of this film, not just in terms of the Los Angeles microcosm, but also in a national context. It offers a chance to chuckle at and hopefully transcend our own stupidity.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Let’s consider Mel Gibson’s recent shenanigans. Like Rodney King, a drunken Mel allegedly ran at the cops and resisted arrest. Law enforcement, however, pacified Mel and Rodney with markedly different methods. Why didn’t they put the beatdown on Mad Max? After all, he was allegedly drunk, disorderly, belligerent, and abusive, and he tried to flee the scene.
The optimist’s answer might be: “different law enforcement agencies, different methods.” The cynic’s answer would be that treatment had a lot to do with who the suspect was. The truth probably lies somewhere in-between.
Ultimately, only those involved in these events know what really happened. Both situations were stressful, and that stress probably affected perceptions and decisions. Nevertheless, I am going to suggest that those enforcing the law need to take a measured and consistent approach to stressful field situations. So as long as bias exists in law enforcement, the question: “can’t we all just get along?” will be a difficult one to answer. That doesn’t mean, however, we should stop thinking about it, because the issue will not sort itself out.
The L.A. Riot Spectacular is an important study in the continuing discussion on race relations and is worth checking out.
The DVD is available through the usual commercial outlets. Go to http://www.lariotmovie.com for the inside dirt.