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Overall Rating

Awesome: 41.07%
Worth A Look51.79%
Just Average: 3.57%
Pretty Crappy: 1.79%
Sucks: 1.79%

7 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Dave Chappelle's Block Party
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A pure hit of bliss."
5 stars

Had she lived to see it, I think Pauline Kael, that notoriously hard-to-please film critic, would've loved "Dave Chappelle's Block Party." After all, she loved the concert films "Stop Making Sense" and "The Last Waltz," and this movie deserves to be on the same shelf as those classics.

Kael also loved Richard Pryor, and she might've seen his legacy living on in Dave Chappelle, the quicksilver comic who turns racial tension into farce. Easygoing and levelheaded, despite his highly publicized conflict with Comedy Central over the fate of Chappelle's Show, Chappelle isn't so much an angry black man as a humanist who sees the lowdown, raffish humor in people's delusions. (In one of his most famous sketches he played a blind white supremacist who didn't know he was black.)

So when Chappelle pulled together an all-star concert on a Bed-Stuy corner in September 2004, he did it without anything to prove. He had clout now, and a means to get all his favorite musicians together for one eight-hour concert. Like Stop Making Sense and The Last Waltz, the movie is all about a good time. It's also about inclusiveness. The artists -- Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Dead Prez, the reunited Fugees -- are primarily black, with the occasional white session player. But Chappelle, in the footage we see, goes back to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio to hand out free tickets to the concert (including transportation and a night at a hotel), and he approaches people of all races, ages, and genders. Some of them he probably expects to say no, like the middle-aged ladies who run the convenience store, but he just wants to see what they say and how they say it. As it happens, the ladies say yes.

Director Michel Gondry (who made 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) cross-cuts between the concert and the process of putting it together. Dave Chappelle's Block Party is less about the music than about the event. There's a good deal of goofing around between Chappelle and various musicians in rehearsal, and we see Dave doing things like trying on pimp hats or just shooting the shit with the famous and nonfamous alike. Gondry brings a caught-on-the-fly style to the footage that nonetheless coheres into something that feels planned, or pre-ordained. Chappelle happens across a college marching band and asks them if they want to play at the concert; soon they're backing up Kanye West for an electrifying, relentless run-through of his "Jesus Walks."

I couldn't honestly tell you what some of the hip-hop artists are saying without looking up the lyrics -- the words sprint out in a rat-a-tat Uzi stutter that my ears just couldn't process (I sympathize with the older white guy in the film who says he doesn't dislike rap, he just literally can't hear what they're saying) -- but not understanding all the words never stopped anyone from enjoying opera music. What matters is the syncopated joy, despair, love, hate, passion, and everything else that comes pouring out of the performers and their audience. As in the 1981 punk/new-wave concert film Urgh! A Music War, the women make themselves heard more clearly; they've worked too hard not to be heard, and singers like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and especially the volcanic Jill Scott are almost frighteningly precise and powerful. Their segments reminded me of yet another classic concert film, Bert Stern's way-ahead-of-its-time Jazz on a Summer's Day, a gorgeous time-capsule record of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

Chappelle says in the film that the block party was the best day of his career. I'm sure it was. Given the pressures that made him flee to Africa and bow out of a third season of Chappelle's Show, it makes sense that he wanted to organize this concert (a month or so before he signed the famous $50 million contract) -- it let him just hang out with creative buddies, and it let him be a fan again.

Most of the time, Chappelle is just another face in the crowd, bobbing his head in time to the beat, nothing on his mind except the music. The movie lets us share in the experience.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12885&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/26/06 22:48:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival For more in the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/10 Shay It isn't so much about the music but if you can't listen to hip-hop don't watch it. 5 stars
10/12/07 yuko i wish if i could have been there 4 stars
4/17/07 David Pollastrini NEVER THOUGHT MUCH OF HIM 2 stars
8/13/06 George I smell reefer 4 stars
8/05/06 MikeT THIS MOVIE IS MISLEADING! 10mins of Chapelle & the rest is a rap concert. 1 stars
7/25/06 Indrid Cold If you don't like the music, there's not much that's worth seeing. 3 stars
6/23/06 Jan Willis Enjoyed Dave but not the music 4 stars
4/16/06 millersxing A showcase for these awesome performers, Dave is the _truth_. 5 stars
3/30/06 Soha Molina ok 3 stars
3/25/06 PABLO RAMIREZ this film is too sick 5 stars
3/24/06 Ole Man Bourbon Mostly musical performances, overall it's decent but not much funny stuff. 4 stars
3/10/06 Tanya it was wonderful, I saw it the first day it came out 5 stars
3/06/06 ajay the music's not my thing, but I enjoyed this movie. 4 stars
10/05/05 kre Not only is it hilarious, but it is truly soulful and funk-tacular. 5 stars
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  03-Mar-2006 (R)
  DVD: 13-Jun-2006



Directed by
  Michel Gondry

Written by
  Dave Chappelle

  Dave Chappelle
  Erykah Badu
  Mos Def
  Lauryn Hill
  Wyclef Jean
  Kanye West

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