In the world of musical documentaries, ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’ is as affectionate and exuberant as they come.
Chronicling the dissolution of New York’s punk proclaimers, LCD Soundsystem, Shut Up employs a unique, four-part structure that delves into the questions of why front man James Murphy made the 2011 announcement that appeared to cut down the band in its prime.
A kind of electric heartbeat of the city they sprang from, LCD established and then cemented their own legacy, finishing it up with the Madison Square Garden show. Legacy can be a rather elusive term, and it’s that moniker that directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern track across a complicated timeline. It’s an impressive film that works because its creators are so passionate and curious about their subject.
Chronologically, Shut Up and Play the Hits is like a cryptogram; garbled at first glance, but ultimately deciphering the internal and external forces at work on a band struggling with responsibility to the art itself. Most impressive, both aurally and visually, is the centerpiece of the picture; that final performance at the Gardens. The directors and editor Mark Burnett allow it to be both a kinetic concert film and an alluring veneer peeled away to reveal the guts and emotions underneath LCD. The concert footage is fabulous and features many of the group’s hits—All of My Friends, Losing My Edge, North American Scum—presented in the live venue and performed without any interruption, bolstered by beautiful cinematography by Reed Morano.
Chuck Kolsterman conducts an interview with Mason that is intercut with, and seamlessly melded to, a third segment that takes place not just post concert, but post LCD, as Mason himself faces a life where the band he created and helmed no longer lives and breathes in the present. There’s another temporal burp that allows the viewer to witness the mounting anticipation and tension directly before the concert, and the mixture of melancholy and euphoria that follows it.
This isn’t the plastic commercial reverence of concert tedium like Pieces of Me or This is It!, but a genuinely curious and ambitiously mounted exploration of the ephemeral. Murphy has his reasons for leaving the band behind, including desires for a family and absence from the spotlight, but it’s also clear that he’s not entirely sure what it is he’s planning next. Placed next to his own uncertainties and the glum aftermath is evidence of what it is he and LCD achieved in their prime, and the emotion and energy they channeled and inspired. You rarely get an opportunity to see such a multi-faceted tone poem when dealing with a favorite band.
Legacy is the question on the table, and for better or worse, LCD suspended their influence in amber, never to be trod down by sliding quality, dispute or even marketplace disinterest. It is rather serendipitous then that they got this powerful documentary, that doesn’t just capture that legacy but dissects and ultimately embraces it.
Whether or not you like LCD Soundsystem, this is a musical docu well worth seeking out.