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Documentary grooves on Chappelle's hip-hop connections, infectious joy
Seattle Times music critic
Joy overflows in "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," an imaginative, music-filled documentary about a free outdoor hip-hop concert the comedian presented in Brooklyn in 2004.
The all-day event took place several months after Chappelle took a break from his popular Comedy Central TV show, a move, he has said, that was part of an effort to find himself.
You can almost see that happening as he rounds up friends and strangers in his native Ohio for a free trip to the party, hangs out backstage with the acts he recruited for "the concert I've always wanted to see," ad-libs hilarious comedy bits and, from a rooftop perch, watches the big crowd having fun in the rain.
The music is outstanding. Chappelle was persuasive enough to talk the Fugees into reuniting after seven years, and their performance is electrifying, especially Lauryn Hill's touching, hip-hop-inflected version of "Killing Me Softly."
Dead Prez, an underrated rap duo, energizes the crowd — and a grinning Chappelle, who mouths the words — with stinging political commentary in "Turn Off the Radio" and "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop."
The beautiful and classy Jill Scott brings sweet jazz to the party with "The Way." Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common turn the place out with "Umi Says" and "Get By." And you haven't heard Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" until you've heard him do it with Ohio's Central State University marching band, a group Chappelle impulsively invites after happening upon them practicing in Dayton (among the most delightful scenes in the movie).
One of the main reasons the music is so uniformly good is because the Roots are the house band. Drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson is amazing, spurring all the singers and rappers with his tight, powerful rhythms.
But what makes the film stand out as a live-concert documentary is French director Michel Gondry's concentration on personalities. He finds a lot of them, from the clerk at a small store near Chappelle's ranch outside Dayton, to the quirky couple who owns the phantasmagorical building in front of which the stage is set up, to the head of a day care that becomes the event's headquarters (Chappelle's interaction with the kids is precious), to interesting individuals in the audience.
Gondry, who directed "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and won an Oscar for writing its screenplay, is a former rock musician who got his start making music videos for his band. He's a veteran of videos (directing clips for the White Stripes, Beck, the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz, Radiohead and Björk, among many others) and knows how to keep the visuals moving and interesting. He masterfully weaves nonmusical scenes in with the concert footage, using Chappelle's quick-witted humor to tie the whole thing together.
Chappelle's talent and the characters in the movie give it a universal appeal, even to those unfamiliar with hip-hop.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company