As the 25th anniversary approaches of the riots that swept Los Angeles in the aftermath of the acquittal of four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King, five documentaries are on the horizon examining what happened in 1992 and why. As I say in my video review above, the John Ridley-directed Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 is the best of the varied bunch.
Starting with the John Singleton-helmed L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later, which airs tonight on A&E, the films mostly draw from the same well of footage, but each tries to find a new way into the chaos that started on April 29, 1992. Part of that is, of course, along the lines of where some would call what took place a riot, while others see it as an uprising or rebellion. While the Poetic Justice director’s eventually penetrating effort — as well as Nat Geo’s April 30-premiering LA 92 that is also playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, and the April 23 LA Riots episode of Smithsonian Channel’s The Lost Tapes — has its technique and POV, the projects essentially cover well-trodden ground.
Of course, the stories of the story of those days in ’92 that ripped open the festering scab of fractured race relations, class, police brutality, and — in the case of the caught-on-video beating of King and Reginald Denny, and others, fractured skulls and bones — are still harrowing viewing years later. Certainly, Singleton’s film and Showtime’s April 21-debuting Burn Motherf*cker, Burn from Sacha Jenkins hones in on many of the same tensions and situations in today’s pitched America.
But like ESPN’s Oscar-winning O.J.: Made In America, it’s Ridley’s April 28-airing collaboration with ABC News that takes a real new look at a tale we think we know but only barely gleam in many ways. Let It Fall, which will get a bi-coastal theatrical release April 21, reaches into L.A.’s past for the voices that were there in ’92 to uncover what happened and where it all came from. The shift in LAPD policies in regard to nightsticks and the sweeps and reign of terror of then-LAPD chief Daryl Gates are but three elements that the 12 Years A Slave screenwriter uses to construct the kindling that the King verdict lit. Add to that new perspectives on the much-filmed event from the media capital, and the deftly orchestrated documentary builds up a narrative that feels intimate as well as historical.
Click on my review of Let It Fall and the other documentaries above about the riots/rebellion in which 55 people were killed. Tell us what you think and what film you will be watching.