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