Chappelle brings a show to the big screen

Dave Chappelle is not an unfamiliar name. The television show on Comedy Central bearing his namesake is undeniably a Zeitgeist of the times.

Unless you are familiar with his standup, you would not realize how subversive his humor can be. The show mostly took a more jovial direction while his standup often times would have subtext where his bittersweet view of the world would reside. To those who only know him as Rick James or Lil’ Jon, this film may surprise you.

The film opens auspiciously in the idyllic town where Chappelle calls home. There, he begins the journey by handing out tickets to a block party he is putting on in Brooklyn. With infectious kindness and honesty he cracks jokes as he recruits his neighbors to attend.

All this is directed by Michel Gondry who dragged along his “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” cinematographer to capture it all on film. While the majority of documentaries are now shot with digital video, the events were all captured on film and there is a certain honesty that comes from it.

The block party itself here is the main focus. Seamlessly cutting from the rehearsals to the actual performance Chappelle glides in and out, more the side dish as opposed to the main course.

He is hysterical as always but this format of spontaneity really allows him to shine. While kindness can be faked for the cameras based on this film, I do not believe that is the case with Chappelle. Whether he was with regular folks or the performers, his personality and zeal for entertaining always shone through.

Early on in the review, Chappelle’s subtlety is mentioned and here revisited because there is none of that in this feature. Using the block party as a backdrop we are shown the dilapidated state of Brooklyn and we are shown the class divide that still exists.

Also the choice of performers reflects the issues Chappelle takes to heart. It is not unusual that all artists, while excellent entertainers, are also very vocal activists.

The performances are never shown in full, and often what is shown is cut with commentary and context to the mood the song conveys. Full songs are not required as the essence of each performer is presented. Everyone, keeping with the tone set by Chappelle, fills every performance and candid moment captured with unflinching honesty.

The strength of conviction from everyone is so strong it transcends the screen confines and is palpable. You really feel as if you were there on that day on September 18, 2005 on a muggy Brooklyn street corner. This is normally the point of a concert documentary but the way this one goes about achieving it is magical; a point which will not be lost on audiences.

Dave Chappelle’s name on the marquee will make people want to watch; but the spirit and soul that pervade each frame from everyone who had any part in making this block party happen will linger long after you leave the theatre. Emotional, entertaining, optimistic and bittersweet whether or not you are a fan of Dave Chappelle or any of the artists ; this film could not come more recommended.