Wed 20 Dec 2006
If Chappelle strips down, his change into Matthew McConaughey will be complete.
If a stand-up comedian turned actor came up to you on the street and said, want to take a bus ride to a hip-hop concert in New York, what would you do, hot shot? What would you do?
The answer for many people in rural Ohio is: Get on the bus.
“Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” is one-half Americana, one-half concert. The audience gets a brief look at many of the party attendees as they are asked to go and as they reflect on their expectations and excitement for the journey.
Chappelle didn’t just ask young, college-age kids to attend a hip-hop show in Brooklyn. He invited all of the local, rural people of the small town in Ohio he calls home.
That means that on the bus to Brooklyn, you had black kids in their low 20s, a white shop owner in her 60s, two parole officers in their 40s (one white, one black), and a host of others.
Chappelle wanted to not only give some people a chance to see a great concert, he wanted to bring people who weren’t traditionally known as the hip-hop demographic.
That’s a major reason that the film transcends simple music documentary into something a little more significant and interesting.
And in Brooklyn, Chappelle met some of the local residents on the block where the concert was going to be held. That included an eccentric couple that were redesigning their house into something only kids could dream up and a look at a local youth center and its connections to the community.
Still, in the end , what it boils down to is that Comedian Dave Chappelle thought it would fun to put together an old school block party in Brooklyn and wanted to put together a lineup of his favorite artists.
To take care of the filming aspect of the project, he turned to French director Michel Gondry. Gondry is known for his visual style and probably best known in America for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.
Chappelle chose Gondry because of his unique eye and respect amongst the film world. This was perhaps the best decision Chappelle made.
Gondry was able to weave the multiple narratives into something that organically unfolded. He had cameras sweeping not only the stage but the crowd and backstage as well.
Footage was taken of the rehearsals that proved to be wonderful ways to introduce the audience to the performances onstage.
The entire project was only able to become one cohesive vision thanks to Gondry and his team.
Of course, the components that make up the final product are just as important and it begins with Chappelle’s wonderful comic talents. He can make a simple dialogue between two people a full-blown comic sketch.
His enthusiasm, not only for the music but the people, is the heart of the film.
The performances are then the secondary or even tertiary aspect and the lineup was impressive. Acts included Mos Def, Kanye West, Jill Scott, Big Daddy Kane, John Legend, Erykah Badu, The Roots and as the culmination of the event, a reunion of The Fugees.
All of the artists give energetic and crowd pleasing performances. It’s almost as if the concert is a celebration of the camaraderie that Chappelle was able to inspire amongst all of the people in the film, from concertgoers to music acts to the filmmakers themselves.
One shouldn’t view “Block Party” thinking they’re going to get an hour and a half of Dave Chappelle onstage making weed jokes. He is the facilitator for a film that tries to say much more and, thanks in large part to Gondry, the message is delivered.
While I think you would enjoy the film far more if you are a hip-hop fan, I’d say that as long as you are musically open, you will find something to like in this film.
I’m giving “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” a 3 out of 5. I personally would have like more comedy from Chappelle and might have liked a tighter edit on the whole project but that’s not what the filmmakers were trying to do.
If you’re looking for a good time and want a little music thrown in on top, check out this film.