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Volume 34
Issue 09
 
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Two lively films open today: Dave Chappelle's Block Party and Who Gets to Call it Art?
Two lively films open today: Dave Chappelle's Block Party and Who Gets to Call it Art?
by Derich Mantonela - SGN A&E Writer

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

The Metro & elsewhere

Black hip comedian Dave Chappelle, whose immensely popular "Chappelle's Show" on television's Comedy Central netted him a fifty million dollar contract to produce more of the same, recently emerged from his "disappearance" in Africa where he is said to have gone to get in touch with his Black roots and his newly-acquired Muslim faith. Supposedly, Chappelle's been doing some soul searching to try to reconcile his in-your-face, often profane, ultra-hip brand of Black and societal satire with his new-found religion.

Stay tuned to see how that pans out. Some of you, if you caught his live show in Seattle last weekend, which got pretty bad reviews, may have a better idea than most of us as to just where he may be heading.

Meanwhile, if you are a Chappelle fan, or just curious about him, you'll want to check out his "semi-concert" film, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," which is getting plenty of push via ads on TV. It is directed by whiz kid Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind") in a non-style which seems at times rudderless and rambling, evidently intentionally so.

Keep in mind that this "documentary" about his organizing of a blockbuster hip-hop "block party" in Brooklyn's seedy, ethnically diverse Bed-Stuy neighborhood, featuring some of the biggest names in the biz (Mos Def, Kanye West, etc.) was filmed in 2004, prior to his recent conversions.

It's an enjoyable enough divertissement, beginning with Chappelle's amiable rambling through his Dayton, Ohio hometown while he rounds up locals, white and Black alike, to attend the concert, handing out free bus tickets to New York and promising to take care of their needs during the event. He recruits the Central State University marching band (mostly Black) to perform at the event, as charming and likeable and talented a bunch of young people as you are ever going to encounter.

This is Chappelle at his likeable best, sweet-natured, gently spoofing one and all, reaching out to all cultures and economic and age levels. He seems to have a special affinity for ordinary folk, while at the same time more than holding his own with the toughest, most rarefied strata of hip-hop and other big-time show biz types. While he often appears to be the butt of his own satire, its stinging reproach to those who would take themselves too seriously (as many rap artists do, for example) usually elicits laughter, not anger, from his targets.

Little surprise, then, that a man with such talent for bringing all types together, could reign in some of the bigger stars of our era to perform at his "block party," musical segments from which comprise about half the film. His biggest coup is in re-uniting the Fugees, including Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras, after a seven-year separation. Their rendition of (of all things!) "Killing Me Softly" is clearly the high point of the concert.

Interspersed with the concert footage are scenes of Chappelle interacting with the stars backstage, roaming around the city playfully engaging ordinary folk, rehearsing, camping, clowning at a Salvation Army thrift store (where he bangs out a tune on a decrepit piano), delighting the kids at a day school once attended by Biggie Smalls, and other such Pee-Wee Hermanesque escapades.

Chappelle's philosophical asides include his observation that comedians and musicians have a natural affinity for one another, each desiring to possess the other's skills. "I have no talent," he says, "for music or for comedy but I've somehow managed to talk my way into a fortune."

Chappelle's real talent, it seems to me, is a genius for bringing together disparate elements of our diverse society to laugh at each other and at themselves without rancor or subterfuge.

Who Gets to Call it Art?

Northwest Film Forum

If you're looking to get a clear picture of the incredible decade (1960-70) of American art which embraced Abstract Impressionism through Pop Art and more, Peter Rosen's documentary "Who Gets To Call It Art?" is a lively representation of various key players in that hectic, astonishingly fecund era.

The film focusses on self-made, self-styled guru/curator Henry Geldzahler, Belgian-American academic art major who plunged himself headlong into New York's bubbling cauldron of artists and ideas before almost anyone else could figure any of it out, and well before worldwide fame brought big bucks for this particular art into play.

Geldzahler (1935-1994), with his uncanny knack for recognizing talent and for embracing the avant-garde. was New York's ultimate arts scene gadfly and groupie, championing the artists while at the same time buddying up to them in the most intimate, ingratiating fashion, being accepted and admired by them even as he rose to fame on their coattails (and, to some extent, they on his). It was a perfect symbiosis. Geldzahler got to hobnob with his beloved artists while they, with his considerable promotional help, eventually became rich and famous (some of them, anyway).

His curatorial epic masterpiece, the Met's "New York Paining and Sculpture 1940-1970," established post-war American art on the world scene once and for all.

Film clips and interviews with the artists include Andy Warhol (obtusely playful), David Hockney (charming and urbane), and other luminaries the likes of Frank Stella, Larry Poons, Jasper Johns and a host of the biggest names in American art history.

"Who Gets To Call It Art?" brings to life a brief American Renaissance and a man who lived it and helped steer it.

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