What sets Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s rock and roll documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits apart from other similar films isn’t necessarily the music of defunct post-rock pioneers LCD Soundsystem, but the willingness to explore a deeper human element behind the creative process rather than simply stroking the egos of the people involved. For a film about a influential band playing their final show before a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden, it’s refreshingly humble without getting bogged down in musical minutiae that sometimes brings other similarly styled pieces to a grinding halt.
Aside from several lengthy, long-form performances from the band’s April 2011 farewell show, the film comes assembled with two framing devices designed to give both background into the band for the uninitiated and to give context to frontman and founder James Murphy’s state of mind both before and after saying goodbye to his most widely beloved creation. One week before the show we watch as Murphy sits down with famed rock journalist Chuck Klosterman to do a fairly standard press interview over glasses of water in a nearly empty restaurant. The day after the show we watch as Murphy forces himself to get out of bed to shave off his patchy two week old beard before heading out to face reality and say goodbye to his creation once and for all.
As a subject, Murphy proves to be a really interesting and thoroughly likable person. He constantly comes across as a man who can very easily impart his intellect or technical knowledge with ease, but despite the large degree of control he seems to be given over his projects and the unendingly pretentious questions he’s asked by Klosterman, Murphy genuinely likes where his job has led him. Equally relieved, saddened, and hopeful for the future, Murphy on screen lives the life he talks about when he says in the interview that no one in his band is particularly exceptional beyond being good at what they do and being genuine. It’s something wholly apparent as we see sequences of Murphy performing the most banal of tasks like feeding his French Bulldog or heading to a storage locker before his gear is about to be sold off. He seems like the kind of person who can’t do anything unless he has a true emotional experience from it, something acutely apparent from the film’s touching final scenes.
That similar thinking translates well to the live act portion of the film, wonderfully shot by Reed Morano and sharply edited into Murphy’s story so as not to feel like the personal elements were afterthoughts. Watching Murphy’s connection with the audience in every song despite not really being the most energetic or manic person to ever front a band feels inspiring. It should also go without saying that the film would be best enjoyed as big and as loud as possible, making it a no brainer for fans of the band or anyone looking to simply rock out to go to the one night only movie theatre screenings across the Canada and US on Wednesday (or, if you’re in Toronto, for an encore performance at the Bloor the following night, as well).
For a man that didn’t get started on becoming a rocker until he was in his 30s, James Murphy has left a legacy behind that he seems proud of even if he spends the rest of his days simply living the life he had before LCD Soundsytem, and for a band that originally never wanted to put on shows in the first place, they were an indelibly dynamic live act. During their all too short lived run to have a documentary made about them that’s as assured and entertaining as Shut Up and Play the Hits seems like both a monumental achievement and equally fitting with Murphy’s humble nature. Like the band’s place in musical history, the documentary about their farewell should stand as one of the great examples of its genre.