Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

As suspected, Dave Chappelle's Block Party was a brilliant and delightful little film. Before watching it, I'd just read The Believer's interview with director David Levine (fascinating and highly recommended), so my brain was very much attuned to ideas of performance. Where does it start, where does it end (both in terms of duration as well as the boundaries around the performer's "job" and his/her private life), where does it belong (on stage, on film, in a gallery, on the street, a little of all of them), who is it for, how is it financed--and all these things are hit on, totally organically, in the film.

Watching Chappelle play the street like an instrument was such a beautiful thing. Although he is very funny throughout, I'm not sure he should even be called a comedian, at least not in the context of this film. Nor is he an actor or, of course, a director. He really is some sort of performance artist--in a way, what he's doing is kind of similar to Andy Goldsworthy, except instead of working with the ephemerality of nature, he's using the materials of the city (its sounds, its scenery, its people) to create something equally beautiful yet fleeting. It's almost like the long dinner party scene in To the Lighthouse (a scene I think about fondly, and often), with one supremely magnetic personality gathering a huge group of people in one specific space to create not any one "thing" as such, but a tender moment of vivid, exuberant togetherness. Time and fellow feeling become his project.

Gondry, as a director, obviously understood this aspect of the proceedings in an extremely sensitive and reflective way, which I'm sure is why there's so much focus on the couple living in the Broken Angel house. Aside from just being, y'know, catnip for a documentary film crew (real crazy people! living in a crazy cool location! that we just stumbled upon! and can film basically to our heart's content!), there's a parallel sense of visual and emotional poetry in their story, where two people who are marching to the beat of their own drummer have constructed something illogical and patchwork and uniquely their own out of random chunks of material and then live inside it. The main difference between them and Chappelle, though, is at least they're unapologetic about it, whereas Chappelle's art, in the context of this film, seems performed almost as an act of penance for the collective weight of his relatively recent fame and success. I'm sure Gondry was also responding to this undercurrent of hesitancy or insecurity in his persona, in much the same way that he sought to pull that little-boy-lost quality in Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine.

For all that, though, the film is also just a flat-out good time. I was absolutely filled with delight for the entire hour and forty-five minutes. It's so rangy and charming and relaxed and easy-breezy. Nothing really happens, of course, but it's just nice to spend time with these people. There's no part of me that isn't completely fascinated by ?uestlove, and something in my soul positively shuddered (in a good way) every time Erykah Badu was onscreen. Plus, it made me really, really fucking ridiculously excited for my upcoming trip to New York.

Also recommended in this month's issue of The Believer: Todd Pruzan's essay "Mental Chickens," nominally about a late-90s movie soundtrack from New Zealand, but really about friendship and living in cities and growing old and people disappearing from your life. There's a paragraph near the end of the piece where he talks about an old photograph of a friend that all but made me spontaneously burst into tears.

"Everthing Ricky Gervais has done has made me hate him. Everything. He seems utterly devoid of humanity."

I confess, though I like it on a surface level, I'm having trouble getting more deeply into Noble Beast. I agree with Scott Pretty Goes with Pretty that it sure does seem like a looong album, especially in that opening stretch--and then again in the back half, too. But, I would disagree that Armchair Apocrypha is "upbeat" and would also disagree that Dosh's electronic programming on "Not a Robot but a Ghost" doesn't serve Bird well. In fact, I think that's why Apocrypha is my favorite Bird album to date and why the one-two punch of "Not a Robot but a Ghost" leading into "Anonanimal" is my favorite part of Noble Beast at this point: there's a sonic darkness to them both that heightens the ooky-spookiness that's always lurking in his lyrics. His folksy/pastoral violin excursions are great and all, but I think he could stand to get darker. I want more plaintive keening. I want his emo album.

1 comment:

parowpyro said...

omg. the broken angel house is a site to be seen. a friend of mine visited the city in 2002 & insisted on going there. then a few years later, it ends up in a dave chappelle movie.

they've since had to take down a lot of the stuff & it's been on & off the market (currently on). it's slightly sad really.

in summary, we should go to some cool wacky-looking place if we want it to be in dave chappelle's next movie.