3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: March 7, 2006
Movie review by David MalschI've told this story before, but it's worth repeating for this review. In 1993 I signed up to win a trip to go to the comedy arts festival in Aspen, Colorado with Comedy Central. I've always believed that if you don't play, you can't win. Well, my name was the only one picked and off I went to mingle in the Rocky Mountains. They flew my wife and I to Aspen, put us up in a cozy mountainside hotel, gave us a ton of spending money and exclusive passes for the weeklong event. In retrospect, 1993 was a great year for breakout artists and we hung with them all. There was Dave Attel, Marc Maron and Kathy Griffin who showed more promise than just being a D-List celebrity. I got to meet Albert Brooks, Bill Maher and my hero Hunter S. Thompson. There was Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and this skinny black guy from Washington, D.C. named Dave Chappelle. I always remembered Chappelle because he was always hanging' around and the friendliest guy there. He always recognized us and he would hang out like we were someone important. He was a great guy... I wondered whatever happened to him?
In 1998 he starred in the film "Half Baked" playing the role of Sir Smoke-A-Lot. It put him on the map and in 2003 after being turned down by every television network The Chappelle Show premiered on Comedy Central. It made him a star. At the height of his fame in September 2004 he decided to put together a Block Party in the Bed Sty neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. He wanted to put together at his expense a show that he had always wanted to go to. So in homage to Richard Pryor and the 1973 concert-documentary "Wattstax" he created a one day party, the only one of it's kind event for his people. French Director Michel Gondry who made "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind "was there to capture it all on film and the rest is history.
The film begins with Chappelle roaming through his hometown in Ohio. In his hands are Willy Wonka-like golden tickets to the event. His goal is to mix the Bed Sty community with the small town folk of America to create a diverse group of people enjoying a single joining event. He invites an older white woman who sells him his cigarettes at the local convienance store, parole officers on the street and a couple of black kids on their way to play golf for the afternoon. He also bumps into the Central State University marching band and invites all of them to perform with the scheduled guests. Chappelle offers to get them to New York, put them all in hotel rooms and feed them. The event was never publicized outside of Internet rumors and remained until the day of show, the best kept secret in town.
Chappelle also invited some of the most politically charged hip-hop acts working today from Kayne West, Mos Def and John Legend. Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Common were also there with The Roots serving as the house band for the event. Big Daddy Kane showed up and The Fugees reunited on stage for the first time in over seven years. The non-stop music throughout the day is only interrupted occasionally by Chappelle to play master of ceremonies and interject some very fun comedy relief. I am not a huge hip-hop fan but the music presented throughout the day and in the film is infectious. From Kayne West's "Jesus Walks" and The Roots' "Boom!" to hearing Lauryn Hill's famous rendition of "Killing Me Softly" with The Fugees, you can't help but get caught up in the show.
In-between all the action on stage, Chappelle takes us backstage for hijinks and rehearsals. He visits the neighborhood and talks about what he's trying to attempt with this Block Party from the rooftops overlooking the event. We even visit the day-care center around the corner where the Notorious B.I.G. went when he wasn't all that big. "Block Party" is a celebration of life and bringing together all different kinds of people for the cause of unity and respect. From the same streets where "Do the Right Thing" was filmed, Chappelle put on a show that he would later say was the best single day of his career. Just months after the event and looking at a $50 million dollar payday from Comedy Central, Chappelle disappeared to South Africa because he felt his beloved television show slipping away from his control.
In the late 80's I met rock legend Pete Townshend from The Who who was the rudest and nastiest person I ever met and swore I never wanted to meet anyone famous again because it would just ruin my image of these people. I've never been one to ask for autographs or pictures, I was always just thrilled to be in the same room with them from a distance. But Chappelle was the opposite of that even in his early career and the great thing about "Block Party" is that he hasn't changed a bit. Even old ladies love him; he's the real thing and has one of the most creative minds working today. He is this generations' Richard Pryor. "Block Party" is a celebration of music and life and the funniest feel good movie of the year.
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