Sundance 2012 Review: SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS is a Fascinating Concert-Doc for More than Just LCD Fans
When LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy announced he was closing up shop on the band he founded, filmmakers Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern had to know why. They approached Murphy with the idea of making a movie about his journey and his decision to go out on top. Then LCD announced they would play one final show in New York's Madison Square Garden and Lovelace and Southern's epic concert docu took form. Call it The Last Waltz for the electro-DJ-generation. Lovelace and Southern's creation is a complex, yet beautifully constructed exploration of legacy, set to some of the most attractive concert footage in recent memory. LCD and music fans rejoice; this is one of the best concert documentaries in years.
At the heart of Lovelace and Southern's film is an innovative structure that follows events on four separate chronologies. While this threatens to be overly complicated and confusing, the directors and editor Mark Burnett handle it with grace, gliding seamlessly between the threads. The stunning camera work from Reed Morano and her team (that includes Spike Jonze) keeps the stories linked by a consistently gorgeous visual experience.
The backbone of the film is the Madison Square Garden show. The majority of the half-dozen or so songs are shown without interruption, allowing LCD fans to soak in the glory of such hits as All of My Friends, North American Scum, and Losing My Edge. An interview of Murphy by pop culture guru Chuck Klosterman pilots us through much of the visual experience. Klosterman stands in for the director's voice, goading honest answers from Murphy with his meticulously crafted questions.
Klosterman's and Murphy's often disembodied voices float over the third chronology which follows Murphy as he travels through the first day of his post-LCD life. From waking in the previous night's tuxedo shirt to the sad realization he needs to sell the band's touring gear, these moments provide an intimate glimpse into the heart of a man at a remarkably transitory moment.
The fourth thread takes us back stage before and during the MSG show. For all the melancholia we feel throughout the day-after segments, the intellectualism of the Klosterman interview, and the pure musical catharsis of the concert components, these backstage segments provide the perfect counterpoint in their raw emotion; the accedence to the high of the performance.
It's easy to see what drew Lovelace and Southern to this undertaking. Murphy's decision to end his project at the pinnacle of its artistic output, just before crossing into mainstream culture, is a fascinating one. While the film hints at these reasons (Murphy's desire to have children, and enjoyment of his relative anonymity are two of them), in the end it seems Murphy is just as uncertain of his decision as anyone. What is certain is that the emotion of his quest for meaning, and the explosive musical form those emotions take, provide one of the most interesting and enjoyable musical documentary experiences in a long, long time.