Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
Rolando and I went to see Dave Chappelle’s Block Party last week. We were actually the only two people in the theater. So we had a bit of trouble capturing that block party vibe amongst ourselves. But the movie delivered where we could not.
It’s the wrong season to watch this movie. Filmed in September 2004, Block Party is part concert film and part documentary of the making of the concert. It captures perfectly the off-the-cuff feel of a late summer block party. Even the house band for the event, who are as tight as one could hope for, play with a relaxed, improvised air. Watching the film, whose cuts mimic the casual, well-timed turns of the band, I felt the humid vibe of the whole event. I wanted to be watching the film in the summer. Or actually, I just wanted to be at a block party like this one.
The film never explains any reason behind throwing the block party — if there were one besides having a good time — so you never feel like there’s a subtext to the event. It’s just a good time. And the performances really convey that. All the musicians have a tremendous rapport with each other. At one point, ?uestlove from the Roots explains how most of them used to play the same Sunday night showcase and so knew each other and played with each other before their careers blew up. Watching the band react to the vocalists and vice versa, you see how in sync they are. It’s not just the streets of Bed-Stuy that give the film a real neighborhood feel, it’s the friendship and familiarity of the players.
Then there’s Dave Chappelle himself — MC for the party and host of the film. Throughout, Chappelle projects a laid-back cool but you just know that it took a hell of a lot of preparation to pull off something of this magnitude — a block party in Bed-Stuy featuring The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Dead Prez, and the Fugees (!). There’s something so admirable about a guy who can put that together and shrug it off like he’s having just as much fun as you are. And he geniunely is. Everyone is. And their enjoyment is contagious.
Hands down, this is the best feeling movie I’ve seen all year.
(Full disclosure — I’ve only seen two movies this year: this one and a movie about divorce.)