With Chappelle’s Show still on indefinite hiatus and its star only recently returned from his South African sojourn, fans of Comedy Central’s $50-million-dollar man have been fiending for a comedic fix worse than Tyrone Biggums craves crack. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, alas, will only partially satiate that gnawing hunger. An easygoing document of the September 2004 all-star music concert in Bed Stuy organized by the comedian, Michel Gondry’s film is a casual mix of live hip-hop and man-on-the-street stand-up, interspersing vibrant sets by Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Common, and Mos Def (among others) with footage of Chappelle handing out golden tickets to the show in his Dayton, Ohio hometown, joking around with local Brooklynites, and occasionally riffing on race relations. With a line-up of socially conscious artists, the concert is at once an excuse for Chappelle to stage a rollicking party with his musician friends as well as a good-natured call for community. From the diverse group of Ohio natives Chappelle buses to New York City (including a parole officer, middle-aged convenience store clerk, and university marching band), to the interracial backing band used by most of the acts, to the actual street corner chosen as the affair’s venue—featuring a decrepit building dubbed “Broken Angel” that’s being restored by two Caucasian kooks, as well as a day care center once attended by Biggie Smalls—the block party becomes a celebratory reflection of its MC’s humanistic attempts to bridge cultural, economic, and ethnic divides through the twin mediums of humor and hip-hop. If the Dead Prez prove to be more militant spokesmen for self-actualization than the soulful Jill Scott, both are bonded by a seemingly sincere desire to empower their audience, an aim one also senses in Chappelle’s caustically funny articulations of African-American frustrations, fears, and anger. Despite having music video wunderkind Gondry behind the camera, Block Party rarely strives for any serious marriage between visual aesthetic and content, its aggravating interruption of showstopping performances (such as The Roots-Big Daddy Kane collaboration) with Chappelle’s rehearsals and interactions with everyday folk only meekly echoing its larger themes of reconstitution and harmony. Fortunately, though, such directorial slackness is ably compensated for by a climactic set from the reunited Fugees, whose very appearance ably embodies the event’s overriding spirit of unity.
- Michel Gondry
- Dave Chappelle
- Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, Cody ChestnuTT, Common, Mos Def, The Roots, The Fugees, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Big Daddy Kane, Talib Kweli
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