"If it's a funeral, let's have the best damn funeral ever": so jokes LCD frontman James Murphy as Shut Up And Play The Hits, part-biopic, part-gig film and part-farewell tearjerker, opens. Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern have joined forces again on this documentary (past credits: Blur documentary No Distance Left To Run) which manages to not only celebrate the band's impact on their cultural zeitgeist but treat viewers to a next-best-thing experience of their retirement gig at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd 2011.
In particular, we're given a backstage pass to James Murphy's personal life in shots that flip and play with chronology, all underlined with footage from his tell-all interview with journalist Chuck Klosterman. In the space of less than two hours, Lovelace and Southern compile teased-out confessions and introspective throwaway remarks that paint a vivid picture of the glory of the band, the impending emotional toll of their separation and the one man who stands at the centre of it all.
Shut Up And Play the Hits isn't necessarily just a film for LCD Soundsystem obsessives. Lovelace and Southern, rather than fill in the audience on the band's history with an exposition intro, choose to let Murphy speak for himself. The film is boldly rooted in the present, in the moments in New York City where Murphy goes between saying his final tearful goodbyes to instruments he may have used for years to silently making coffee with his French bulldog the day after the show. The footage is left to tell the story in the way most tales are conveyed in our daily interactions with each other: with gaps left here and there but the overall message still communicated.
When it comes to the gig footage, a cluster of handheld cameras were given to the likes of Spike Jonze, Lee Morano, Eli Born and Stephen Cosentino before they were pretty much given free rein to film what they liked. The variety that ensues, from Jonze's fixation on a loved-up couple making out during a euphoric dynamic build to bird's-eye-view shots that scan the bopping heads of the crowd, is both rich and well-edited. Southern and Lovelace don't let the abundance of camera operators overwhelm the film and help craft a sense of just how simultaneously devastating and ebullient the Madison Square Garden show must have been for those who attended.
In the clips from his interview with Klosterman, we witness what may be Murphy's first verbal articulations of the feelings unearthed by ending the band. With a calm candidness he darts around from one topic to the next, covering everything from his teenage obsession with David Bowie, "wanting to leave a mark, a stain" on the musical landscape by playing with LCD Soundsystem and whether it may seem cowardly to stop the band in the midst of its growing popularity. Overall we're left with the clashing duality that anyone who's left one place they love for a bigger and better opportunity will understand: the sense of excitement bursting through the crushing sadness from needing to say goodbye.
The closeness of all members of the band is delicately highlighted throughout the film in their on and off-stage interactions with each other and the casual intimacy that flickers between them before all going their separate ways. There's a true sense that vocalist and keys player Nancy Whang (also of The Juan Maclean), Tyler Pope, Pat Mahoney, Gavin Russom and Al Doyle (also of Hot Chip) have grown to live and work like a family on the road and will likely be left with a sudden vacuum in their lives to fill once the lights go down for the last time in Madison Square Garden. However, as the stunning footage from the gigs reveals, they don't do so without putting on one hell of a show, tears and all.
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