It's September 2004 and comedian Dave Chappelle has gathered a stelllar line-up of urban music artists – as well as busloads of people from Ohio, his home town – to play a show in Brooklyn.
Before French director Michel Gondry directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he made a name for himself with a series of innovative music videos, for artists like Oui Oui (which he played drums for), Bjork, Radiohead, Kylie Minogue and The White Stripes, as well as numerous commercials. His latest film, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, is part documentary, part road movie and concert film. Plus with comedy superstar, Dave Chappelle at the helm, it's definitely funny!
Dave Chappelle has a lot of socially conscious hip hop and R&B musos as friends and in Block Party, he brings them together for a one off concert, which took place on September 18, 2004, in downtown Brooklyn. The block, in the district of Bedford Stuyvesant, was chosen because Gondry wanted Dave to find a venue that was meaningful to the people who lived there. In this case, many of the performers had grown up in the area, and Biggie Small, the famous rapper, who was murdered in 1997, attended the primary school that Chappelle's crew used as headquarters.
Interspersed with concert footage, the film's loose structure chronicles the preparations for the concert and Dave's efforts (mostly on a loud hailer) to drum up support. He travels through Brooklyn and to his hometown of Ohio, encouraging audiences to come along, from shop assistants to the entire Ohio Central State University marching band. This scene, where he recruits the marching band, is a particularly inspired moment and the genuine happiness on the teenagers' faces is thrilling.
The film also shows Dave in rehearsal mode, practising new material or speaking candidly to the camera, about why he's picked certain artists to perform. On stage, we see the acts he loves, in full swing - and it's often breathtaking. They include Kanye West (who starts his set off by walking to the stage with the marching band in full regalia on "Jesus Walks"), the politically motivated Dead Prez, Wyclef Jean, Jill Scott, Erikah Badu and The Fugees, performing together for the first time in seven years. All of which will make hip hop aficionados weep with excitement.
Block Party is an unforgettable experience and one of the best concert films I've seen. Gondry's cinematographer, Ellen Kuras, doesn't miss a beat - smoothly capturing the magnetic energy of the performances, as well as conveying exactly what it was like to be in the crowd that day. To achieve this, they used a series of crews to film different elements of the party, all armed with Super 16 cameras. Hats off as well, to Gondry and the editors, who've pieced togetherwhat must have been hours and hours of footage, into an enticing and effective narrative.
Dave Chappelle too, is a remarkable host and tour guide and his passion for the music is infectious. He explains that this is the concert he's always wanted to see and it doesn't take long to understand why. It's entertaining and eye opening as Chappelle goes on his travels, chatting as effortlessly with a superstar like Mos Def, as he does with children playing on the street - plus he's dead funny! He has a remarkable ability to put people at ease and we're treated to frank interviews and off the cuff performances from Brooklyn to Ohio. But what really elevates this documentary, to be more than a simple concert film, is that it brilliantly unravels the role of hip hop as a social and political force, examining the nature of racism in America.
Watch 'Dave Chappelle's Block Party'
Tuesday 23 June, 12:30am on SBS VICELAND
Genre: Music, Documentary
Director: Michel Gondry
What's it about?
Not since Woodstock has there been a concert with so much love. In the summer of 2004, an excited crowd of strangers board a bus to Brooklyn to join comedian Dave Chappelle at his block party. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed venue not far away, Dave is greeting musicians such as Jill Scott, The Fugees, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Kanye West and Cody Chestnut, who have all come to perform at the party.