film review: Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)No Comment
I don’t know if I’m a fan of LCD Soundsystem. They were a good band, All My Friends is an amazing track and I’m pretty sure I saw them down at Electric Picnic in 2007… but I’m not sure I ever really got into them… or even got them to be honest.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t shocked to hear when they, or rather James Murphy, called time on the band. They were a hugely popular, perhaps not quite at the pinnacle of their popularity but not far off. They say it’s better to burn out than to fade away but LCD Soundsystem seemed to be set on doing something that bands never do. Quit while they’re ahead.
The hype around their final gig was immense. One night only in Madison Square Gardens. Sold out in a flash. Scalpers trying to charge $1,500 a ticket. It promised to be the stuff of legends. I would have loved to be there. But I wasn’t. So this documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits covering the final gig should be the next best thing right?
It should have been, but it’s not.
I know I said I’m not particularly a fan of LCD Soundsystem but I’ve certainly enjoyed their work over the years. I’d give them a solid 7/10 if we were wont to rate bands in such a way. What I am though is a fan of music, I go to gigs and festivals, I listen to a lot of music… I like watching documentaries so I expected to get on well with this… yet somehow, I felt it was… lacking.
Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who were also at the helm of the 2010 Blur documentary No Distance Left To Run, actually cover very little in the course of the 108 minute long documentary. It purports to be an intimate portrait of James Murphy in the lead up and aftermath of this final gig… but it’s just not. Whether this is because Murphy was heavily involved in the edit process, or because they just didn’t get the footage I don’t know… but I felt that the viewer was very much kept at a distance throughout the film.
I was surprised by this because before the film, I saw it at a live screening of the London premiere, the directors had said that this was also a film about the connection between the band and the audience. I have no doubt that connection exists, clearly the fans had a great time, I heard it was quite the show at the time but in this film you don’t get to see that much of that epic gig…
… The gig itself was almost 4 hours long and peppered with guests and chatting to the crowd but there’s no sense of that here. I’d estimate that around 5-7 songs were shown in the course of the film, and not in their entirety. The filming never really gets into the crowd and the stage cameras are mostly focused on James Murphy. There are a few nice moments, a kissing couple, a crying fan, looks between Murphy and his bandmates but they’re fleeting.
In terms of structure, there isn’t really one but it’s loosely strung together by an interview that took place a week before the gig. That interview wasn’t filmed at the time so Chuck Klosterman reprises his role as interviewer for purposes. The original interview was a profile piece that appeared in The Guardian shortly after the Madison Square Garden gig. Using that profile as a narration is an interesting idea but since we never really get to hear the answers, it’s ultimately unfulfilling.
In fact, for the most part, ultimately unfulfilling sums up the film. The best parts of the film follow James Murphy around the day after the night before. This is our intimate, honest portrait and it is as touching as you’d expect. Unfortunately though, it’s such a disparate film that I felt these parts were a little voyeuristic. The film spends so much time keeping us at arms length that somehow these parts felt a bit tabloid. SEE THE LONELY EX-ROCKSTAR BE LONELY.
In the end, Shut Up and Play the Hits is less a triumphant seal on the career of LCD Soundsystem and more a aimless amble through a collection of what must now merely be surreal memories.
Whatever you think of LCD Soundsystem, they deserved better than this.
For those who are looking for better there is good news. The full 4 hour concert will be coming DVD. I’d wait for that…