Dave Chappelle's Block Party Review
By Joe Lozito
Most parties are pretty lame. Despite all the planning and arranging, most gatherings end up being let-downs. People cancel, they don't get along, there's some kind of drama, the food doesn't come out right, someone drinks too much. There's always something standing between you and one of those mythic parties that come along once in a lifetime. Now, thanks to director Michel Gondry, we've got one on film: "Dave Chappelle's Block Party".
For those lucky enough to have been there, back in September 2004, comedian Dave Chappelle (at the time riding the high of Season 2 of his Comedy Central show) cordoned off a block in Brooklyn and invited some of his famous musician-friends to put on a good old fashioned block party. Mr. Gondry, the evil genius behind 2004's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", was on hand to document the proceedings, starting with a trip to Mr. Chappelle's hometown in Ohio to hand out some golden tickets (literally). These scenes provide the non-musical highlights of the film and, if anything, Mr. Gondry relies too much on these vignettes rather than focusing on the concert itself.
And what a line-up Mr. Chappelle has assembled: Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, The Roots, Kanye West, the reunited Fugees and many other cameos. With the exception of Mr. West, all the performers hang out backstage, guest on each other's songs and generally seem to be having a great time. And the feeling is infectious. "Block Party" is a celebration of music and comedy, two arts which Mr. Chappelle sums up nicely during the film: "all comedians want to be musicians, and all musicians think they're funny."
"Block Party" was filmed before Mr. Chappelle's infamous disappearing act so while the film never addresses the issue, there are some hints of what's to come. In one scene, on top of a roof leaning on a megaphone, Mr. Chappelle claims to want to get all these famous people together to see what they're like as people. For a moment - the only moment in the film, since he is always on - Mr. Chappelle turns philosophic about fame. No one sells everything about themselves, he says, there's always some part you keep personal.
It's unclear whether or not Mr. Chappelle had already signed the mammoth $50 million dollar deal which eventually led to his impromptu sojourn to Africa. Watching "Block Party", you're left wondering, was this Mr. Chappelle trying desperately to retain some intimacy in the face of the dauntingly large sum of money at his doorstep?
Whatever the motivation behind it, "Block Party" is a joyous event. Despite the light drizzle throughout the day, the crowd fills the street for this once in a lifetime event. Like any great party, you never get to spend enough time with anyone, particularly the host (I look forward to the DVD extras). But still it's one of those parties you'll remember for a long time.