Talking about Block Party, Dave Chappelle has invoked the hybrid film Wattstax, which captured, among other things, the 1972 concert that stoked souls and salved wounds seven years after the riots that gave it half its name.
The comparison is as misleading as the presence of Michel Gondry as director. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is nothing more and nothing less than a pretty good hip- hop concert film, leavened with Chappelle’s well-timed patter and extensive (but firmly MTV-era) backstage and man-on-the-street filler. There aren’t any Gondrian kaleidoscopic memory or photographic hijinks, and the closest it comes to Jesse Jackson’s leading a Black Power salute at Wattstax is Chappelle improvising bongo poetry about how there are few whites and no Latinos in the crowd.
Music and the community it creates is the attraction of Block Party: Kanye West, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, The Roots, and the reunion of a mystery group whose name starts with an “F” (other letters include u, g, e, e, and s—you got it, it’s the Byrds!). Movie and music alike boast a laid-back vibe. The performers on stage look relaxed, making for some fine naturally flowing performances (which the filmed concertgoers got to see for free). And, oh, that David Chappelle: he starts it all by busing in random people from his Ohio town, including an entire school band.
Connoisseurs of forgotten New York can delight in (or lament) the concert’s locale right in front of the infamous Broken Angel, a Watts Tower in the form of a building. And then we can all argue about the borders between Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill (no featured rapper claims to hail from the latter).