Film

Dave Chappelles Block Party (2006)

Dante A. Ciampaglia

Block Party sustains a balance between good-natured light-heartedness social commentary.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, Mos Def, Common, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, the Fugees, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, The Roots
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Rogue Pictures
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-03-03

Music events, honest to God Events with a capital "E", are few and far between. Festivals are still a draw, but even those are becoming less prominent. Where the music industry was once a fertile ocean of creativity, seismic changes have resulted in a barren landscape of nostalgia tours, post-punk revivals, and '90s weekends on the radio.

The fluxing industry is only partly to blame for the dearth of Events, however. Politics has something to do with it too. Angry people bemoan this presidential action or that war or some global trade agreement, but bands and listeners (who might be termed passers-through looking for an oasis in this desert) don't want to get down and dirty with political action. It's easier to lament the poor state of the world today than it is to do something. The result of such a mindset is boring music, reminiscent of the excessive vapidity of the '80s.

All hope is not lost, however. And the unlikely savior galloping through the dunes is Dave Chappelle.

On 18 September 2004, Chappelle hosted a block party in Brooklyn, where some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B played a free concert to a mostly minority crowd of thousands. The show wasn't short on names: Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Common, Jill Scott, Dead Prez, Mos Def, and the Roots all performed, as did the Fugees, together for the first time since 1997. Chappelle decided to document the event and the days leading up to it, enlisting the help of Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as well as numerous groundbreaking music videos. Gondry's work, like that of fellow Director's Series video artists Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, reflects an appreciation of music, marrying compelling visuals and music to expand the possibilities of both.

Gondry's work here underlines that Chappelle's Event isn't just a publicity stunt to push t-shirts. In fact, it recalls Wattstax, a 1972 show in Los Angeles that, like this one, not only provided entertainment but also raised awareness of racism, urban violence, the Vietnam war, and lack of opportunities for the underclass. Like Woodstock and Altamont, Wattstax was filmed and released theatrically. The film, Wattstax, directed by Mel Stuart of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory fame, intercuts music with Richard Pryor's performance.

The similarities to Block Party are glaring. For starters, the block party is most certainly a politically informed event: all these socially conscious performers have something to say about the conditions facing minorities, women, and the poor. At the same time, Chappelle provides acute humor: he invites a big, hulking guy onto the stage to battle him in a freestyle rap-off. The guy from the crowd is wearing a "Free Tibet" t-shirt, cut off at the sleeves. Chappelle remarks, "Free Tibet? There aren't any black folks in Tibet!" On one level, this is Chappelle poking fun at one of those ready-made political action "items." But on another, it's Chappelle remarking, "Free Tibet? There are people enslaved right here!"

Block Party sustains a balance between good-natured light-heartedness social commentary. Engaged viewers will find themselves wondering how they can better their community while bumping in their seats to the beats blaring from the multiplex's surround sound system. They'll also find themselves engrossed in the film's resemblance to the experience of actually watching a concert. Cutting from the drummer to the guitarist, singer to the horn section, the film emulates how attendees watch concerts. The most important aspect isn't a band's frontperson; instead, what's vital and moving is the sense of immersion in a show.

But ultimately, the film comes down to Chappelle. It's his block party, after all. Some might want to view Block Party as his effort to make us forget about his walking away from his show. But that's not the case. A telling moment comes when ?uestlove notes that Chappelle's audience changed from people like him to obnoxious frat boys once his television show took off. As Chappelle sits silent, somewhat pensive, ?uestlove observes that he didn't want his career to careen down that road.

Instead, Chappelle wants to make the world laugh. When he goes home to Dayton, Ohio, he passes out tickets to a couple underprivileged black youths, a couple of older white ladies, and a couple of parole officers entitling them to a free ride and room for the show, which they're guaranteed to get into. Chappelle even arranges for the entire drum and brass lines of a Dayton community college to not only go to the block party, but also to play in it. The shouts, shrieks, and excitement of every member of the group are palpable -- and inspiring. Chappelle sees this, too. Now that he has the economic and social means to give something back to his community, be it in Dayton or all over America, Chappelle's going to seize on that opportunity.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.