The history of motion pictures, now over a century old, has spawned legions of genres and sub-genres, most of them fictional, or made up stories meant to replicate reality. The documentary format purports to chronicle or record a specific aspect of reality for educational, instructive, or historical purposes. Of course the end result almost always slanted by the viewpoint of the filmmaker(s), meaning it is virtually impossible to render an impartial, objective accounting of an event.
In the countdown to the 25th anniversary of the 1992 insurrection on April 29, no less then seven cinematic offerings have been completed, or are in the works centering on this still tumultuous event.
“Kings,” a crime thriller starting Halle Berry and Daniel Craig, has completed filming and is slated for release later this year. “Rodney King (directed by Spike Lee for Netflix),” is a taping of actor/writer Roger Guenveur Smith’s acclaimed one man stage show.
The others are documentaries: “LA 92 (National Geographic),” “L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later (produced by John Singleton for A&E and aired on April 11),” and “The Lost Tapes (the Smithsonian Channel).” “Burn Motherf*er, Burn!” and “Let It Fall: LA 1982-1992 (directed by Oscar award-winner John Ridley),” were provided by the SHOWTIME cable channel for review here.
“Burn Motherfxxxer, Burn!” narrows its focus on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), with an emphasis on the original Watts Riot/Uprising of 1965. With opinions weighting in from every view point from radical leftists to diehard conservatives, no one can dispute that the history of Black people in Los Angeles is intertwined with the law enforcement entity charged with keeping the peace/maintaining the status quo. Directed by music, publishing, and television entrepreneur Sacha Jenkins, “Born Motherfxxxer Born” utilizes vintage black and white footage, and to-the-point animations to carry the narrative over the past half century to the present.
As its title suggests, “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992,” the seeds of the uprising were sown long before the acquittal of the four policemen charged with beating intoxicated motorist Rodney King. It traces the militarization of the city back to preparations for the 1984 Olympics. LAPD chief Darryl Gates was given free reign by Mayor Tom Bradley to provide a stable platform for the Games to take place. The result was a rousing success, with Gates held up as a miracle worker for staging the event without any problems. The latitude given to the police however (especially “Operation Hammer”), set the stage for the animosity that reached the ignition point a decade later.
Given that all these undertakings cover a specific subject, one can expect a fair of amount of overlapping. Both documentaries feature individuals central to the story, including amateur videographer and South Central native Timothy Goldman, who recorded compelling footage and rescued New York Times photographer Bart Bartholomew from the rampaging crowd, bi-racial juror Henry B. King whose Caucasian features belied his African heritage, and the policemen whose efforts to contain Rodney King led to the debacle and remain defiant well after the proceedings (as do those who engaged in the riot).
Interviewer: He (Rodney King) didn’t seem to have weapon, did he? (Former) Sgt. Stacey C. Koon: “Yes he did have a weapon.”
Interviewer: “What kind of weapon did Mr. King have?”
Koon: “It was his body. And he was under the influence of PCP.
Also on camera is LAPD Lt. Michael N. Moulin, who made the faithful command to withdraw his officers from the area under siege, a decision he stands by in the aftermath. To be sure, culpability is exhibited by authorities and participants in the unrest.
“It was just, one of those days (where) compassion was not handed out to other races,” says South Central resident Gary Williams, one of the “LA 4” convicted of robbing truck driver Reginald Denny.
“Let it Fall” works best because it allows every conceivable segment to voice their recollections about what transpired. Yet and still, neither film offers a resolution to the problems still in existence in the City of Angels, perhaps because there isn’t one.
“Burn Motherfxxxer, Burn!” will be nationally televised on Friday, April 21, at 9 p.m. on SHOWTIME. “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992,” premieres locally on Friday, April 21, at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills. It will be screened nationally on April 28 at 9 p.m., also on SHOWTIME.