DIRECTED BY DYLAN SOUTHERN & WILL LOVELACE
This is a film in two-parts. One part on James Murphy’s preferred mundane life and the other part on the final concert of his band at Madison Square Garden. If you are expecting a Stop Making Sense kind of concert-film (which it totally could have been the moment you see Reggie Watts duet with Murphy on “45:33 Part 2” that segues into “Sound of Silver” with a chorus of men in silver jumpsuits), please pull back on your expectations now. This is about why anybody would want to end a band as dynamic, fresh, and cool as LCD Soundsystem.
When LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy answers Chuck Klosterman’s interview questions about being afraid of getting too popular, afraid to be the fearless rock star that is missing in his generation (Kanye West has that title, according to Murphy), and that his punk ethos (from being in punk bands to working punk clubs such as Trenton’s City Gardens) was threatened by the rise in fame and visibility, you begin to understand why he pulled the plug on a band that started as just a party act.
Many people who saw this were not on board the wistful tone or the filmmakers making the Klosterman interview a major part of the film (in Klosterman’s defense, he had little idea how much he would be involved in the final product- it seriously could have been any other music journalist). I actually loved both aspects of it. Murphy is walking that thin line of being okay with his decision, when he can still walk and take public transportation around Brooklyn unrecognized, and leaving it- possibly too soon. The Klosterman question about the origins to “Losing My Edge” was perfectly needed for the film. Not just for adding the context to a song that on paper is just references when it is in fact it is a social indictment on Murphy’s generation and also the Gen-Y followers who became fans of LCD Soundsystem, a very self-conscious work by Murphy.
There are people who are going to find this pretentious and in fact, there is a question by Klosterman to Murphy on what is pretentious in voice-over for a shot of Murphy shaving his beard, to almost serve providing the transition between day of concert and post-mortem day after when there is no longer LCD Soundsystem based on Murphy’s face. Murphy himself cannot really answer to the most pretentious thing he ever did, reading Pynchon to impress ‘somebody’ when he was a teenager and ultimately having a whole section of Pynchon in his library. Steve Kandell of SPIN Magazine said on Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week? podcast that perhaps it is a little more pretentious for the groups and artists from the indie/punk scene to go from grappling with fame to only embrace it than your Coldplays and U2s seeking fame from the very beginning. Murphy is sort of the former but again, not really. He pulled the plug and even for a master showman that he is, gets a little uncomfortable when so much as his French Bulldog is singled out on the street. I find his whole backstory very human and relatable. Then again, I was the one who wanted to dress up like a member of The Clash in my suburban high school too.
The movie is non-linear with the immediate deconstruction of the stage at MSG being the first shot of the film in a birds nest shot. Again, Murphy’s patchy, white 5 o’clock shadow presence and non-presence is what holds the change of days together. The concert footage is a pretty vertical camerawork with high and low angle shots, birds nest shots of the stage and the mosh pit crowd. There is magic to when the songs are played and there are times when it seems abruptly cut and you wish there was more but still, the film does a good job of transitioning from the interviews to the songs. Southern and Lovelace even avoid the temptation of Murphy’s (and I presume the band’s) manager talking about how everything changes and not even so much as showing “I Can Change” let alone having that as the transition. The quality in the footage is beautiful and engaging even as certain music and pop culture cameos are left with very little said with exception to Arcade Fire doing the chorus to “North American Scum”.
I remember watching the last performance on Pitchfork Media’s live-stream and loving every second of it. With what bits and pieces Shut Up and Played the Hits gives us is very gratifying and I am much more of a fan of the interview pieces than most people (I guess I just *get* Klosterman’s whole game). This is a nice shine the light if minor document of why somebody wants to walk away in modern music. Murphy had always left a paper trail of why he left with those songs, comic and wistful, being letters to both his fans and his contemporaries. Murphy and the band go out on top but the film, even with Murphy as producer, left an opening question that there could have been more left in the band with Murphy admitted this could be his ‘biggest mistake’, ‘biggest regret’, or ‘biggest disappointment’ in walking away. This may be Murphy’s controlled demolition but I do wish there was more context and story paid to the other members of the group be it Nancy Whang or Pat Mahoney. Mahoney in particular is shown with members, waiting for Murphy at a restaurant the night after still being upset, revealing he had been in a bad mood throughout the whole final performance. But otherwise, my complaints are that as a fan I just wanted more in the best way possible.