On Sept. 18, 2004, Dave Chappelle used his own money to put on a concert at the intersection of Downing and Quincy streets in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. He gave out tickets to 5,000 people, including a few busloads he brought in from his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The show featured his comedy along with hours of rap and R&B performances by everyone from Kanye West to Erykah Badu. The Fugees, broken up since 1997, reunited and did a set. It was a day of bliss for Chappelle’s fans.
In a year that has already suffered from the embarrassing shuckin’ and jivin’ of Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry in “Big Momma’s House 2” and “Madea’s Family Reunion,” it’s exhilarating to see a film that celebrates black culture without turning it into a minstrel show. “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” captures the energy and fun of that 2004 event in a way that few documentaries do, enough to make a white guy with a general disdain for rap music stop and think: Huh. These people are really having a good time.
Watching the movie, directed by Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), is a good time, too. Footage is divided about equally between the onstage performances and Chappelle’s pre-show shenanigans, which include walking around Dayton giving out tickets and inviting the entire Central State University marching band and drumline to come perform. We see him bantering with musicians during rehearsals and touring the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, always cracking jokes, always seemingly in disbelief at his own good fortune. (This was before he went off the deep end and fled his Comedy Central show.)
The musical performances are tight, Chappelle’s comedy is funny, and the crowd response is ecstatic. They love the rappers, they LOVE Dave Chappelle, and Chappelle loves everybody in return. There must have been a strong security presence there, with all those big stars performing, but in the film we catch only a glimpse of a couple bouncers. Maybe they remained incognito, or maybe Gondry just avoided filming them. Either way, it adds to the sensation that the concert was indeed nothing more high-falutin’ than a neighborhood block party, where everyone is welcome and all they want to do is enjoy themselves.
B+ (1 hr., 40 min.; )