Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Kanye West, Mos Def, John Legend
|Have you ever gotten stoned?
I'm not talkin' about hardcore wasted...nah, man, not at all. I'm talkin' bout a feel good buzz while hangin' with your friends listening to Marley swayin' to the beats laughin' and lovin' and groovin'. Ever been there?
If you have, then "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is going to feel like a 103 minute orgasm of the heart, mind, body and soul. If you've never been stoned, well, it's not quite necessary to appreciate the feel good vibe of "Block Party", however, it'll certainly help if you have an appreciation for Chappelle or his musical guests including Kanye West, John Legend, Jill Scott, The Roots, Dead Prez, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Common and the, oh my freakin' god, reunited Fugees.
If you can't catch a vibe in this "Block Party," then you're a quadriplegic.
Filmed a few months before Chappelle's notorious 2004 $50 million contract with Comedy Central and subsequent flight to South Africa, "Block Party" is, at times, eerie in the way it seems to predict that something major is coming up for Chappelle as it presents a man balancing fame, fortune and an obvious desire to do something with it all.
"Block Party" is directed by Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and numerous innovative music videos), and Gondry's love of music and interest in everyday humanity are evident throughout the film. "Block Party" is both documentary and concert film, and Chappelle calls the film "the concert I always wanted to see."
The film opens with Chappelle in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Having come up with the idea of a free "Block Party" in the Brooklyn, New York neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, Chappelle decides to not only invite people in his neighborhood, but he decides to provide transportation to and from the concert, meals while in New York AND one night's hotel accommodations. This would be innovative and fresh even if Chappelle invited only his usual friends from his Comedy Central show.
This, however, is Chappelle, who notes "Old people fuckin' love me" and proceeds to invite a couple older White females from a convenience store where he buys his cigarettes along with older friends, younger friends and the entire Central State University Marching Band.
Watching Chappelle invite those from his neighborhood is often funny, yet the beauty and magic of "Block Party" lies in Chappelle's willingness to step back and not be the center of attention much of the time. Gondry, too, wisely focuses his camera all over the place in a technique that is, at times, frustrating but ultimately more emotionally satisfying. Chappelle's visit to a day care center is downright touching as he visits with children, including one who says if he ever got to ride in a limo he'd want to "go to Alabama." One gets the feeling that nobody's really asked these kids much about their dreams before.
Along with Chappelle's laid back, non-$50 million humor, the music in "Block Party" is nothing short of mesmerizing. While Gondry does, on occasion, cut off the performances pieces too quickly, the performers seem humbled by the novelty of this experiment that worked so beautifully. It's interesting to note that Lauryn Hill was originally scheduled to appear alone, but when her record label wouldn't release her songs for the appearance it became the perfect opportunity for The Fugees to resolve differences and reunite. Their cover of "Killing Me Softly" was achingly beautiful, along with an intensely wondrous duet between Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
While "Block Party" generally has a less intense vibe than Chappelle's show, the comedian and his guests don't shy away from bluntly addressing issues of race, power, politics, religion and oppression. They do so, however, in a way that empowers instead of victimizes...again, simply brilliant.
"Block Party" runs about 10-15 minutes too long, and Gondry's editing choices frustrate at times. It's easy to forgive these factors largely due to the spirit of brotherhood, love and joy that radiates in nearly every scene in "Block Party." In fact, it would have been a nice addition to have about five minutes of follow-up after the party had officially ended to learn about the experience of the festivities' more unique guests.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles for what is most assuredly one of this year's feel good films of the year. I will add an ever so mild disclaimer that, in this case, feel good includes the use of language that some would consider offensive and at least a few drug references. As Wyclef Jean points out, however, it's nothing they don't hear in school or see on the internet AND the overwhelmingly positive vibe is way more important than a few obscenities sprinkled throughout the film.
"Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is, I believe, the Chappelle that Dave Chappelle wants to be and is, perhaps moreso after his South Africa, much more likely to be. In the vast majority of ways, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is the concert film I've always wanted to see.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic