Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Double Dose of Documentary

DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY (2005, Michel Gondry)- How many times can a critic, even a nonpro like me, get away with saying "this movie is awesome because I was smiling/laughing/tingling with delight from beginning to end"? I guess I ought to come up with better reasoning than this, especially so soon after TRISTRAM SHANDY. So... ah, OK. This actually deals with the idea of community more uniquely than any film (documentary or otherwise) since WOODSTOCK. There are many different communities represented here- the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, Chappelle's hometown, "the black community", and so on. But just as important is the artists who are spotlighted by the show- these guys (and ladies) have known each other for years, as Aamir "?uestlove" Thompson points out when he relates stories of open-mike nights years ago where the Roots would be the backup band for Mos Def, Common, Erykah Badu, and other artists who are playing the Block Party. And Chappelle, putting on his dream concert, makes a genial master of ceremonies for the film as well- he's a fan of the acts as well as a friend, and he also cares deeply for his fans and wants to do right by them (one senses that his uneasiness with the Comedy Central deal was rooted in this). Despite his status as a comedy superstar, he comes off as generous as well, not just with the musical acts, but also in his interaction with regular folks on the street- he gives them the spotlight, as when "Mr. T" comes up onstage for a "battle", or when a waiter shares his "N**** on the Side" rap with him. Most of all, BLOCK PARTY is a film about an event, a "happening" (as they used to say), and while most filmmakers would have been content to put it all in chronological order, Gondry and his editors cut between the show and the preparations for it, to excellent effect. Sometimes it's something so simple as cutting from Chappelle telling a joke to the crowd to him rehearsing the joke with the musicians; other times it's more complicated, like when he sits down and playing Thelonius Monk's "Round About Midnight" on a thrift-store piano (a surprising moment), and then the music continues under footage of the Central State (Ohio! Woohoo!) marching band boarding the buses up to New York for the show. In short, I expected great music, I expected to laugh. But I didn't expect the film to be this warm, and on top of all the rest, that's an achievement. Besides, with all the other preparations and performances that must've taken place, this will make for an awesome DVD. Rating: ***1/2.

THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL (2003, Judy Irving)- On the other hand, I was expecting this to be genial, but the truth is that even at 83 minutes it feels padded out. In truth, Mark Bittner's not interesting enough to sustain a movie this long, and aside from the wild parrots he's all it's got. The parrots are pretty cool, I guess- Mingus certainly is a feisty little fella- and watching them climb and flying and preen and peck at each other is cool up to a point, but I couldn't shake the feeling that while this could have made a pretty good half-hour special on Animal Planet, it's just not enough to be a movie. Rating: *1/2.


Mark said...

I don't know if you'd say that the film rehabs Chappelle's image, but I agree that it shows him in a much different light than all the "he went crazy" gossip would imply. Plus, for me it was cool recognizing some of the places where he was. I passed on attending the premiere in Dayton, but if I'd known Michel Gondry was going to be there too, I might have changed my mind. It was a relatively low-key affair as far as those things go, or at least that's my impression from seeing the b-roll.

As for Wild Parrots, I liked it more than you, which isn't to say it is devoid of problems. I found the final reveal with the director to be, well, not problematic but...something.

Sorry to hear you won't be making it to Cleveland. (Don't know if you got my e-mail from way back.) If all goes as planned, I think I have seventeen films on my plate from Friday to Sunday.

Paul C. said...

I know what you're saying about casting Chappelle in a different light, but the film doesn't come off as a piece of spin control. For one thing, Chappelle doesn't seem to be trying all that hard to prove himself, and this comes through in his generosity both with the musical acts and the regular folks he invites. He wears his celebrity lightly.