For fans of LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy’s announcement in February of 2011 that LCD Soundsystem was calling it quits was like a bomb going off, an eight megaton buzzkill at a party that was just getting started. Later, the final shows were announced, and the faithful, or otherwise spectacle addicted, made their way by hook or by crook to THE final performance of the band at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd of that same year.
The film Shut Up And Play The Hits was meant to document that last night and its aftermath, giving a brief glimpse into the goings on onstage that evening, and in that capacity it succeeds wildly. Hits gives fans a candid peek into not just how LCD Soundsystem, as a band, interacted, but just how deeply their efforts touched the group’s fans. The footage that directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern captured that final night rebounds gleefully back and forth between the audience perspective, and that of a stage full of musicians undoing themselves. It’s a kinetic tour de force that manages to satisfy almost as much as the real thing and the filmmakers should be applauded for their efforts Much like concert films heavyweights The Last Waltz, Tourfilm, or Rust Never Sleeps, it captures the essence of a band at the peak of its powers, and does so with an elegance that can only come from a true intimacy with the artist in question’s work.
Unfortunately Shut Up And Play The Hits is a documentary, not a concert film.
To their credit, what the directors and Murphy have created is one of the best EPK’s (Electronic Press Kit) that the world has ever seen. But there is little revelation, even less actual information and a surprising lack of honesty with the audience being put forth here. Actually let me revise that last statement. The film isn’t so much lacking in honesty as it has a feeling of this is NOT happening.
Every scene in the film that doesn’t take place on the stage has a displaced feeling to it. One could argue that it was a stylistic choice made by Lovelace and Southern to better match the air of uncertainty that surrounded not just the events in the film, but Murphy’s decision to call it quits. But when even the most “emotional” scenes in the film feel like a reenactment, it forces the viewer to question whether what they are viewing is a documentary or just a giant ego piece, penned by Murphy himself.
A good portion of the films’s 108 minute runtime occupies itself with a sit down interview with Murphy conducted by Chuck Klosterman, "the reigning Kasparov of pop culture wits-matching.” As the interview weaves in and out of the narrative, it becomes clear that the session is really nothing more than a semantic game of softball, whose intent is less to illuminate then to draw attention to the fact that “Hey we are TWO REALLY INTERESTING PEOPLE HERE.” and you should pay attention because, well, just because.
If that sounds cynical, it’s because it is. But perhaps the most jarring demonstration of this – besides the fact that it runs counter to pretty much everything that drew people to LCD Soundsystem’s music in the first place – is when Klosterman’s name ends up in the credits ABOVE all of the band members except for Murphy, as if to suggest that somehow he is more important to LCD Soundsystem’s story than the people who actually made the music. It demonstrates a crass lack of judgment on the part of the filmmakers, and whether or not Murphy had any say in the matter, it speaks poorly on him as well.
After all it’s not Murphy the man (and it’s CERTAINLY not Klosterman) that drew people into LCD Soundsystem’s orbit. What drew people in was the music, and though Murphy have been the driving force behind its conception, none of it would have ever happened without the help of his friends and bandmates. To put a finer point on it, nobody showed up at Madison Square Garden that night to see Murphy hard at work behind a console – they came to see the group that made Murphy’s vision whole…and possibly to dance their asses off.
For those people there is good news. The concert, in its entirety, is going to be included in the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Shut Up And Play The Hits making it a must buy for fans of the band, or those who are even curious as to what all the hubbub was about. This documentary, on the other hand, is probably best ignored. If the footage on display in Hits is any indication, then what was captured on film that night will tell the story of LCD Soundsystem far more eloquently, and loudly, then words could ever hope to. In other words, maybe the filmmakers should have heeded their own counsel - and just shut up and played the hits.