By: Mark Di Stefano
Rating: 10 out of 10
Rock documentaries have been done for decades now; from the acclaimed 1976 Roc-Doc The Last Waltz about The Band to 2008’s Shine A Light, about The Rolling Stones. It’s a type of genre that can get repetitive over the years. It’s rare to find a film, not just rock documentaries but any film in general, that makes you feel alive. Shut Up and Play the Hits, a film documenting the last days of LCD Soundsystem, is that film.
For those that are unfamiliar with LCD Soundsystem it’s understandable, given that they have been on the music scene sense 2002 and have only disbanded last year. The band is the representation of James Murphy, who writes the music and records it under the LCD Soundsystem name. After three albums Murphy decided to disband the group in April of 2011 and have their final concert on April 2nd, 2011 in Madison Square Garden.
When news hit about the breakup, filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace saw this as an opportunity to follow Murphy in the days leading up to the event, the concert, and the day after. The film premiered at Sundance of this year and through distributer Oscilloscope Laboratories (founded by the late Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys), it was released nationwide for one night only on July 18th, 2012.
The music of LCD Soundsystem can be hard to bottle up into one category but for the most part it is a combination of dance, electronic elements, punk, and rock. Southern and Lovelace have captured the spirit of the band and their final performance that sold out to about 18,000 people. During the film Murphy said that he didn’t like music that makes you stand but music that makes you jump, Murphy, LCD Soundsystem and the film all make you want to jump out of your seat and dance.
For die-hard fans of the band songs like “Dance Yrself Clean,” “North American Scum,” “Movement,” “Losing My Edge,” amongst other fan favorites. The energy that Murphy and company exude is memorizing, and takes you on another level. During one of their fan favorites “All My Friend,” chills run up your spine, as if you were right there.
The filmmakers captured not only captured the spirit of the concert but of the audience as well. During the middle of one of the songs, the camera captures a guy and a girl dancing around each other, and for a brief moment they start to kiss for a while, then they go back to dancing. We can assume they were in a relationship but they could be total strangers. The point being that moments like these happen at concerts, and Southern and Lovelace were there to capture all of it.
As for the focus of the film, Murphy is first seen the day after the concert. While snippets of an interview Murphy did days before are heard off screen, Murphy doesn’t really talk to the camera, allowing the directors to be flies on a wall.
When Murphy decided to end the band, the viewer could tell that he was really definite about his decision. In the beginning of the film when Murphy wakes up to a message from his manager Keith congratulating him, he just closes his phone and goes back to sleep. He didn’t want to hear any news about the concert because it was over.
During the concert Murphy, despite his feeling about the last show, gives it his all, not holding anything back. Even during the show he says to the crowd “We hope it will be a relatively weird experience for everyone.”
Murphy is not totally adamant though. He lets out some emotion throughout. Towards the end of the show, he looks bewildered that it’s the end, not realizing that this is it. The last song of the concert (fans of the band should be able to guess the last song given it’s at Madison Square Garden), and the moments after it are what drives it home to the audience. Most of the band and the audience are in the same boat, not wanting the experience to end. The last concert by LCD Sounsystem is energetic and lively and provides fuel for the film, and vice versa with the film giving access to a reserved man who may or may not be thrilled about the end and what to come.
Murphy has stated several reasons for why he disbanded the band, one being that he’s afraid of the band becoming too big, and another being to have a normal life again. The viewer can come to their own conclusions about his reasons, but one thing is for certain: only Murphy knows. This is the most personal account of a band that was captured on film in a long time. It’s emotion and vibrancy made the theater and those in it come alive.
The decision to release the film for one night only may upset some who were unable to go, but it might also be brilliant. The concert to end all concerts was a once in a lifetime event, and the July 18th showing was like a farewell concert for the band all over again. The crowd in the theater loved every minute, even the people who never listened to LCD Soundsystem in their life was thrilled by the film.
Some bands decide to call it quits and that’s that, much like what R.E.M. decided to do in September 2011. The tagline of Shut Up and Play the Hits is “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.” Murphy didn’t want to end the band suddenly, he wanted to end with a bang, and he does so, a beautiful, lively bang.
Some regard The Last Waltz as the definitive rock documentary, but Southern and Lovelace bring a film that just might to be its equal, if not better. While the legacy of LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy are of course defined by its music, the film serves as the band’s eternal spirit that will live for a very long time. It hasn’t been announced that the film will be released on DVD, meaning that this is one of the most unique experiences to ever hit the big screen. While Murphy doesn’t care much for press or criticism, there’s nothing to criticize about this film. It serves not only to be the best rock-documentary or documentary for that matter to come out in a long time; it’s one of the best films of the year, whether Murphy likes it or not.