How do you say goodbye to a band that never really went away? The LCD Soundsystem hiatus really threw a wrench in my feelings toward music back in 2012. Just a few years earlier, Fall Out Boy, the emo band of my teen years, had announced its own dissolution. I was prepared to never love music again, and seeing Shut Up and Play the Hits only furthered that anxiety.
The documentary from Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern struck right at the nerve of someone who truly loved their favorite bands with all their might. LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy wanders through New York in the days leading up to (and following) their final show at Madison Square Garden. He chats with Chuck Klosterman, figures out what to do with the band’s equipment, and carries his adorable dog throughout the city. Lovelace and Southern capture the seeming calm of a life without music but juxtapose it against a sold-out three-hour show of a band leaving their heart on the stage.
One of the brilliant aspects of the documentary medium are the way we capture moments in time. LCD Soundsytem, like my beloved Fall Out Boy, was not gone for long. In fact, they would release new music a mere four years after their “final show” would send shockwaves through the industry. Yet, for those on-screen, the finality washes over them. For every moment with Murphy, we want to spend a few more moments with the rest of the band. Instead, Lovelace and Southern provide fleeting glimpses of the others (Nancy Whang, Pat Mahoney, Tyler Pope, Rayna Russom, Matthew Thornley, and Gunnar Bjerk). The deprivation of their stories creates a purposeful longing.
What really takes Shut Up and Play the Hits to another level is the talent that cycles through the film. Cinematographer and future director Reed Moreno captures incredible images throughout the show. Not only do we see a crowd moving in waves, but we see the pure joy radiating from them in the most unusual moments.
Moment after moment, Moreno captures the feeling of Murphy’s lyrics in visual form. For a minute, we remember what it means to be with our friends, partying like there will be no tomorrow. Moreno juxtaposes images of Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari with unnamed fans relishing the moment. Reggie Watts, Arcade Fire, and others join LCD Soundsystem on the stage. For a minute, even Win Butler breaks, mockingly yelling the film’s titular line to get Murphy to move along. Yet it’s clear that Butler and his band never want to leave this moment. The egalitarian nature of the footage combines with the sweet melancholy of Murphy’s lyrics to create a truly transcendent experience. When the cameras focus on a ski-masked fan staring blankly ahead for infinity, we’re left with the undeniable feeling that this moment mattered. For one moment, this was the whole world for 20,000 fans in New York. No matter what came next, that was always the case.
As Murphy struggles with his decision to sell the equipment that belonged to his band, it becomes clear the next step might be too much for him. He relays a list of what he expects next in his life. Some of his dreams would come true (he would become a father), while others continue to elude him. For one minute, we hear the sobbing of a man lost with what comes next. The irony of knowing this man could capture that feeling with inexplicably poignant lyrics is still devasting.
Alan’s Rating 9/10
What do you think of Shut Up and Play the Hits?
Where does it rank among your 2012 films? Let us know in the comments below!