When there’s a riot going on
Looters take to the streets of Los Angeles on April 29, 1992, following the police beating of Rodney King Broadly speaking, there are two distinct approaches to making a documentary film, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. The first and currently prevalent style is a narrative massaged by talking head interviews, special effects and even animation to supplement existing footage. The second is a more organic and immersive experience in which the filmmaker eschews such frissons and concentrates on building that narrative with archival and home movie sources to move the story forward.
The latter is the approach used to great success by directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin for LA 92: The Riots, a minute-by-minute, youare-there accounting of the violent unrest that occurred in South Central Los Angeles in the wake of the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King 25 years ago.
The verdict that sparked the violence occurs nearly 40 minutes into the film; before that Lindsay and Martin lay the historical groundwork that includes the 1965 Watts riot, hardliner Daryl Gates’s ascension to LA police chief and the election of the city’s first black mayor, Tom Bradley.
The riot itself is exhaustively covered, with powerful footage and propulsive editing that speaks volumes about the frustration of the residents and the confusion of the authorities (all except congresswoman Maxine Waters, a voice of reason in the rubble).
The film’s overarching theme is best described by a newsman summing up the Watts riot: “What shall it avail our nation,” he intones, “if we can place a man on the moon but cannot cure the sickness in our cities?” At once riveting and sobering, this is a timely, important work. Sunday, 8.30pm, NatGeo