Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Unrated)

With the name Dave Chappelle attached to a block party I expected a concert movie akin to Eddie Murphy’s Raw; a comedic performance that allowed Chappelle to step outside of the boundaries of his Comedy Central television show and perform whatever he felt like he wanted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is less modern day Murphy and more Andy Kaufman. While Block Party contains less Chappelle than you’d catch in a half hour of his show (even with the extended unrated edition), it contains the type of celebration Kaufman would put on, with relevant and energetic musical performances intermixed with Chappelle’s own tell-it-like-it-is style. Chappelle moves away as the star of his own Block Party and only serves as host for a hip-hop celebration he always wanted to see. The performances range from the popular Kanye West and The Fugees (who reunite after seven years) to the more obscure (but no less important and talented) Dead Prez and Mos Def. Erykah Badu and Jill Scott provide a soulful balance to the party, especially as the performances begin to blend together and the artists jam with exquisite artistry.

All of the Block Party is captured on film by Michel Gondry. What inspired the Eternal Sunshine director to document the celebration is unknown, but Gondry brings the same vision that make his surreal films so successful to the real world of Dave Chappelle’s life. Through Gondry’s camera we see Chappelle as he moves through his hometown in Ohio inviting unlikely acquaintances to attend his party, scouts out the location he’s selected in Brooklyn for his Block Party and meets the locals, and relaxes just taking in the show he’s put together. Chappelle isn’t here to entertain for this show, just to enjoy. With all of the oddities the camera reveals along the way you’d almost think this is one of Gondry’s planned out pictures, but he and Chappelle just manage to find the strange in every situation – like Chappelle encountering a college marching band and deciding they need to be part of the party too.

Although I had entered Dave Chappelle’s Block Party hoping to see some quality stand up comedy, I left the party thoroughly entertained. Even though most of the hip hop music Chappelle presents isn’t something I would normally listen to, the music has value even the most uninformed listener can’t ignore. Chappelle and Michel Gondry are just there to help you see why and have a little fun. This is a party after all. If Block Party wasn’t entertaining enough in its theatrical release, the Unrated DVD edition adds an extra eight minutes to the film. Considering the theatrical release was already rated “R” I doubt that extra time really adds much more to the film. It’s still a movie worthy of an “R” rating. The unrated edition does give the viewer the opportunity to watch the film with extended musical sequences however, giving this cut of the film a little more meat.

As a performance movie Block Party is the type of film that’s just as enjoyable to watch on a good home entertainment system as it is in the theater. If you can crank up the sound and get that block party feeling you’ll really enjoy the movie. The bigger screen of a movie theater allows you to see things better, but doesn’t make a huge difference. This movie is all about the sound.

This DVD release carries very few extras aside from the movie itself. There’s a half-hour documentary showcasing the creation of the Block Party, from the original idea to the execution. It’s interesting to see what Chappelle’s motive behind the party was, but I’d rather have had a Chappelle/Gondry commentary track explaining their motives along with their commentary on how the end project turned out. There’s also a short featurette on the Central State University band. A static screen advertisement for the movie’s soundtrack completes all that the DVD has to offer.

Block Party is the type of movie that people are going to pick up for the performances, not any kind of DVD extra. That’s the approach Rogue Pictures took releasing the DVD and it’s probably not a bad one. The value in the movie comes from the movie itself and other than a commentary track, there’s not much more I’d wish to see.