24 July 2008

(Dave Chappelle's) Block Party

Directed by: Michel Gondry
Written by: Dave Chappelle
Full credits from IMDb

Grade: B-

Block Party opens on two fellas trying to repair a brokedown car; it then cuts to a colorfully uniformed marching band rehearsing down the street. With this contrast, between malfunctioning metalware and merry music, Gondry quickly sets up what the movie is about: the dichotomy between urban decay and the shared sense of celebration despite economic hardship. This is a documentary about a block party, after all.

And what a block party—better than the ones near where I live, anyway, as it boasts over half a dozen of hip-hop’s most popular acts. For its first half, Block Party primarily functions as an urban travelogue—visit the schools, the Salvation Army store, the rundown streets—with a comic tour-guide. Mr. Chapelle, the Comedy Central star (appearing here pre-nervous breakdown), decided to throw a party on the streets of Bed Stuy; so, first, he travels to his Ohio hometown, where he chats and jokes with pedestrians, barbers and shop clerks—and invites many of them, expenses paid, to NYC—and then it’s off to New York’s Second Borough for party planning and execution. Throughout, Gondry interlaces hip-hop performance footage from the eventual party.

But the film is also a celebration of black pride, in the form of rap music. (It’s predominantly a black party, rife with barbershop talk, although there’s a sense of Barackian postraciality to it: racial stereotypes are laughed off, white people—including the director—are invited and involved in the production, and Wyclef lectures a group of black college students: “don’t blame the white man for nothing.”) About half way in, however, Block Party ditches the travelogue to become a straightforward concert film (with privileged backstage access). Without a straight time structure, Block Party has no plot and no narrative tension. It’s merely a pleasant but slight portrait of some of life’s good things: community, artistic collaboration—things which Gondry would explore more fully and more personally a few years later in Be Kind Rewind. At the end, Chappelle gets up on stage and tells the crowd, “We shook up the world!” Not quite, but you kept it busy for an hour and change.

Watch the trailer:


Nomi said...

I disagree. I thought it was powerful. They DID shake up the world.

This hit my sweet-spot. So much so, I've spent the last few weeks (only saw it for the first time 3 weeks ago) trying to understand why I was so moved (not touched) by it.

I'm not a fan of hip hop in the sense that I don't know all the words and I don't have any of the albums but I know the artists and I know their place in the hierarchy.

I'm a fan because there's something very spiritual about it and I don't think the best director in the world could capture that and still make this production audience-friendly.

From Khayne West's 'Jesus Walks' to The Roots, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott doing 'You Got Me'.

Then there was Lauryn Hill... LAURYN HILL is probably the most misunderstood person in the world. What a fragile soul... and for her to come out and share energy with women as powerful as Erykah and Jill is something to note.

These people may be perceived as rappers but what they hold in them is far greater than that.

When Chapelle said they shook up the world, he meant it.

Cute ending to your review but don't play with how real (read real. As in it happened. As in it owns a piece of time). Don't try to take that away from them and those of us who were moved (as in mobilised) by it.

If you want to understand what hip hop is and who these people are, see this production. It's hot

Anonymous said...

Chappelle never had a nervous breakdown. He's discussed at length why he left his show at the peak of its popularity. For the best explanation of what ACTUALLY went down, I recommend his interview with James Lipton on "Inside the Actor's Studio". And Dave Chappelle through his TV show, and the Block Party film, most certainly did shake up the world.