Published on June 30th, 2006 | by Michelle Thomas0
Dave Chapelle’s Block Party
Cast: Dave Chapelle, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, The Fugees, Dead Prez, Common, The Roots, Talib Kweli
I spy with my little eye a bit of a trend this summer: concert films. In a few weeks the Beastie Boys ‘Awesome! I Fucking Shot That’; this week, Dave Chapelle’s Block Party, directed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s Michel Gondry.
I have to admit that I didn’t know who Dave Chapelle was, and confused him with David La Chapelle, and wondered why he was having a block party… quelle ignoramus! But anyway, for those who don’t know, Dave Chapelle is a comedian of the African American persuasion. Having made wads of money with his self-deprecating humour, he decides (apparently on a whim) to throw a party in Brooklyn and invite lots of people to come along. Using his star power and contacts, he assembles a line-up of performers who don’t make headlines, but have a positive message and something to say.
Rather than just being a film of the concert, Gondry intercuts this with behind the scenes footage, rehearsals, and follows Chapelle as he heads back to Ohio and invites pretty much his whole home town to come to Brooklyn.
It’s an odd film to get a theatrical release but it’s a lot of fun. The concert includes Jill Scott (who has beautiful skin), Erykah Badu (whose incredible afro turns out to be a wig), Kanye West, Mos Def (who can play the drums) and The Fugees, reunited for their first performance in seven years. The multi-cultural crowd that come together to stand in the rain are for once united in a life-affirming celebration making a really pleasant change from the usual gloomy picture of race relations in the US.
Dave Chapelle is clearly a bit of a hero in his home town and he’s also a very funny guy. One of the best scenes is when he invites the marching band of Ohio’s Central State University to open the show; many of the kids have never been to New York and when their band leader gives permission they jump all over Dave in their delight. The concert itself is a bit of a mixed bag – I don’t like the Fugees – but it’s good to see artists giving something back to the community and Dave Chapelle, who pops up to entertain the crowd between each set, is a brilliant stand up.
There aren’t many clever Gondry-esque moments, but what he and cinematographer Ellen Juras do capture is the sense of immediacy and excitement that you get at a gig and have made a crowd-pleasing, fun summer movie.
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