LA 92

The Letterboxd Era Catch Up 2: The Last Stand

Something that has always stuck in my mind, albeit as someone sitting thousands of miles away from where the 1992 Los Angeles riots took place, is the reaction to Rodney King's statement very soon after he made it.

Almost immediately it was turned into something comedic. Even over here in the UK. "Why can't we all just get along?" - misquoted as it was - suddenly became the punchline in a million jokes and parodies and mickey-takes. It struck me as so strange that a heartfelt statement from a man who had been subjected to a life-threatening beating and then seen his assailants acquitted in a court of law, despite the most incriminating of evidence standing against them, had become something used for numerous comedic purposes.

But I'm not surprised, even to this day, that that's what happened. And having watched LA 92, I'm even less surprised. Looking at the expression of prosecutor Terry White, walking into that Simi Valley courthouse, having seen the trial of the men who battered King almost to death move to a predominately white neighbourhood, he probably wasn't surprised either. He has the expression of a man who had already lost. He knew what was about to happen. And sadly, he was right.

The expressions and reactions of the four cops on trial before they entered the courtroom is so telling, too. Joking around and palling about with reporters, they knew what was about to happen as well. No matter how much you know about all of these events and no matter how much you may have read, heard and seen about them, it's still shocking watching them unfold in front of your eyes. That these things actually happened in a supposedly civilsed society. And they should stay shocking forever, too.

As a documentary, LA 92 is perhaps at its most interesting and incisive when focusing on the actual trial. The use of horror movie background music over the occasionally leering and graphic footage of the resultant riots dilutes the undoubted power that a lot of the material that Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin have unearthed here. I think that it might have been more interesting to have focused slightly less on this footage, and more on the key figures behind the scenes to all this - the community leaders, politicians, police chiefs and so on.

That said, it's still a very strong documentary that covers a surprisingly large amount of ground anyway, pleasingly carving a hole in some of the dreadful reporting of the riots, notably.

Steve G liked these reviews