Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie
Music Video Distributors // Unrated // $19.95 // May 11, 2004
Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 25, 2004
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The Movie

Glow sticks. Pacifiers. Baggy pants. Body glitter.

If the above items sound like great ingredients for a Friday night, then Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie might just be up your alley.

This documentary by Julie Drazen tells the story of one Disco Donnie (real name James D. Estopinal Jr.), one of the most famous promoters of New Orleans' local rave scene. Throughout his school years, young Donnie would always organize parties at local bars, despite his desire to be an accountant (no, really!). Upon being invited to a local dance party after work one night...and the rest, as they say, is history. Devoting all of his time and energy to the promotion of dance culture, Donnie lit up the local scene quickly. Through the late 1990's, he became the ringleader of legendary rave parties---many of which had thousands of ravers in attendance----which took place wherever possible (including an old fish warehouse). From dance contests to Mardi Gras celebrations, Donnie really achieved his goal of being "the life of the party".

However, the local authorities (and the DEA) didn't appreciate Donnie's efforts. Eventually, the first major conflict between the two occurred on August 26, 2000. For several hours, the DEA agents searched the premesis, confiscating everything except what they hoped would be there---namely, illegal drugs. Soon, Donnie learned that he was being indicted under drug-related grand jury charges, and it seemed to be the beginning of the end. Was Donnie the victim of a bullying administration, or was he rightfully prosecuted as a criminal?

This, of course, is the main focus of Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie, and director Julie Drazen does a decent job of telling it like it is. Rise is an objective look at the man behind the parties, and the staggeringly popular genre of music that influenced him so much. Featuring music by Josh Wink, Leftfield, Qbert, Nico and many more artists, this documentary will be of much interest to long-time fans of rave music, or those who are relatively new to the genre. To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of the rave scene (although I find some of the music quite listenable), but the fact that Rise held my interest was enough to consider it a successful effort. It's not a perfectly-done piece---often lacking focus and a crystal-clear direction---but the information and interviews are presented in their best possible light.

The DVD comes to us from Music Video Distributors, and is relatively a bare-bones disc. Featuring a slim amount of bonus features and a decent technical presentation, it's a release that barely gets by in the long run. Still, the documentary is modestly entertaining in its own right, and delivers a provocative story in an objective manner. By and large, though, it serves as a celebration of the rave culture and its rise to popularity. In any case, let's see how this one stacks up:

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Presentation:

Here's where things get slightly confusing: the packaging states that this film is presented in 4:3 fullscreen, but it's actually presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. With that said, this film will hardly get by on video quality alone. The majority of this footage is appropriately dark, and most of it suffers from being washed-out and very grainy. Still, I doubt this low-budget affair was ever meant to look clean and sharp, so this is most likely the best that Rise will ever look. The audio fares much better, and is presented in your choice of 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround mixes. Both offer pleasing audio experiences, although it's no surprise that the music comes through a little more clearly than the dialogue. Despite this initial problem, it's an excellent effort that shouldn't leave any viewers disappointed (although optional subtitles may have been helpful to some extent).

Menu Design & Presentation:

The overall presentation here was good, including the simple non-animated menus (which are strangely silent). This 69-minute film was divided into 13 chapters, with no detected layer change. The packaging was also simple and well laid-out, giving a good impression of what to expect with this DVD release. Overall, nothing here will really blow you away, but it gets the job done.

Bonus Features:

Bonus features for this disc are limited to 15 minutes of additional behind the scenes footage, which has been divided into four sections: "The Rave Act" (11 minutes), "Josh Wink's Foot" (2 minutes), "Goddess Dream" (1 minute), and "Let's Turn This Around" (1 minute). For one, I'd have liked to hear an audio commentary with director Julie Drazen, or some of the contributing artists (Paul Van Dyk, Josh Wink, etc.), or some more music-related extras. Even with the relatively low MSRP on this disc, there's under 90 minutes of content here...and that's a little thin for my tastes.

Final Thoughts

With a relatively thin amount of extras here, your desire to purchase this DVD will rest solely on your interest in rave music. It's not one of my favorite genres by any means, but this documentary does a decent job of presenting the facts objectively and in an entertaining manner. While it comes up a little short to warrant a blind buy, there's just enough here to make it worth a look. Rent It.

Randy Miller III is an art instructor and retail monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.

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