Sunday, August 5, 2012

MIFF: Shut Up and Play the Hits

The first film to hit my eyes at MIFF '12 was akin to a great opening track of a kick-ass mix-tape. I think it was High Fidelity, where someone declared the opening track must be "a killer, an attention-grabber". That's a given of course, but as I tapped my foot and resisted the urge to have a little seated boogie, I couldn't help but make take note of how well Shut Up and Play the Hits ticked that particular box. In one fell swoop, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace's documentary/concert film managed to be just the sort of exhilarating, poignant and highly enjoyable way I prefer to begin fortnights spent at the cinematorium.

Shut Up and Play the Hits chronicles the 48 hour period before and after the final LCD Soundsystem show. It's part funeral, part farewell party, and entirely a move very consciously orchestrated by the band's engine, James Murphy. Apart from the obvious inclusion of footage from the concert itself - at a sold-out Madison Square Garden - Southern and Lovelace also follow Murphy around during preparations for the gig, throughout the day after, as well documenting an interview with Chuck Klosterman. All the while however, Murphy doesn't address or acknowledge the camera. We watch him as he shaves, as he potters around his apartment, takes his adorable dog for a walk, visits a friend. Even the Klosterman interview which provides the film's narration, is filmed at times almost voyeuristically. As a result, one does end up wondering to what extent each shot was constructed and deliberate. Like the death/end/demise of LCD Soundsystem as a project, much of Shut Up and Play the Hits seems to be highly controlled. And like the at times melancholy and quite introspective lyrical content of Murphy's songs, it's all interestingly juxtaposed with the no-holds-barred exhilaration of their live performance (oh boy oh boy is it ever fun), as well as the moments in which Murphy's emotions in the day following bubble to the surface.

Obviously it helps that I've been a great fan of LCD Soundsystem for many years now. Hell, I very clearly remember watching the final concert, streamed live via I was in my pyjamas (it must've been the early afternoon), chatting to a friend streaming it from London. He was at a hostel computer, I was at my parents' house, and LCD Soundsystem were ending their career at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. I recall consciously thinking that I was watching something special, something that would never ever happen again. Watching it on the big screen, sumptuously photographed with tracking shots and focus pulls - no buffering, or cries of "FUCKING LAG" - that feeling seemed to be creeping back.

I'd hazard to say that one doesn't need to be a fan of LCD to enjoy the musical segments of Shut Up and Play the Hits, but I'm obviously fairly biased. I've put their songs on mix-tapes for everyone from romantic interests to family members to a metal-loving pals. I'd put that down to James Murphy's propensity to make eloquent, mature, introspective, hilarious music. But you know, I am a fan. I'll say this much though, I found it difficult to keep myself (flying solo, of course) from dancing around in my seat, and by the film's close I'd long given up on trying to keep my feet from tapping. The concert captured is a worthy last hurrah - the crowd swarms beneath a huge disco ball, the band cut loose (Al Doyle in particular, never remains still and upright for more than a couple of seconds). It kind of makes you want to run out into the night and find a gig to attend and have an emotional attachment to. Highlights (for those of you playing at home) included "All My Friends", "Dance Yrself Clean", "Movement", a guest appearance by Reggie Watts, and the concert's closing number: "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down". If it's in an indicator of how amped up I was after leaving the cinema, I sent a message to a friend that read: "GO SEE SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS. JAMES MURPHY IS A FUCKING BOSS. SO GOOD. GO SEE. GOGOGOGOGGOGO."

Murphy is a dynamic frontman, and makes for an intriguing, articulate and thoughtful protagonist. Via his interview with Klosterman, we see how thoroughly he's considered the reasoning behind ending the band, as well as his preoccupation with aging, his awareness and fondness of pretensions, his sense of humour. At the same time however, Klosterman often seems to have far more to say than Murphy himself on the band's trajectory and legacy. Perhaps it's the intellectualizing and the somewhat performative aspect of some scenes that make the instances in which Murphy sheds tears over the band's death surprisingly poignant and moving. As balloons fall from the roof, on the phone to a friend,  visiting the gear for a last time before it's all sold off are just a few instances.

Shut Up and Play the Hits is for fans of LCD Soundsystem. The same way someone unfamiliar with The Band might enjoy The Last Waltz because it's so damn entertaining and beautiful however, I'd put it out there that music fans in general are likely to get a kick out of LCD's funeral party. Shit, I hope my funeral's as much fun.

3.5/5 stars (As a fan, I'm tempted to bust out a 4/5)


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