Sundance Film Festival 2012: LCD Soundsystem's Last Show in Shut Up and Play the Hits

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A mash-up of cinema and journalism, document and performance; a concert film sandwiched between a mission statement and a staged punctuation to a career:  the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut up and Play the Hits offers more basic narrative satisfaction than many of the fiction films shown here using documentary aesthetics in the name of realism.

Structured around the hyper-self-conscious New York post-punk dance act's supposed final live show ever -- an epic affair that packed Madison Square Garden last April -- the film weaves together highlights of the show itself (including maybe half a dozen full performances chosen from the 29-song set); excerpts from an in-depth interview conducted by Chuck Klosterman a week before the show; and verite footage of the day after the show, documenting LCD singer/figurehead Murphy's first day as a "retiree," from the moment he wakes up in the previous night's white dress shirt, to a celebration dinner with the band and friends.

LCD Soundsystem were at the peak of their career a year ago (their final full-length release, This Is Happening, hit the Top 10 album sales charts in the U.S.) when Murphy announced that the band, which he had been promising to walk away from for a while, would play its final show. In documenting the band's end, the film also seeks to explain the psychology of walking away from fame, and how that move fits in to Murphy's ongoing personal conflict between attractions to introspective/analytical art and mainstream fun-time pop culture.

Speaking to Klosterman, Murphy mentions Nick Cave as the ultimate example of a rock star whose persona seems almost superhuman. "I have to recognize that he's just a dude -- he has to check his email, he has to check in for the plane -- but up there [on stage], there's something that, like a 16-year-old, I'm still transported by."

Murphy tells Klosterman that one of his initial goals as a performer was to puncture that sort of rock star exceptionalism, to be a "normal" guy who happens to make music. But what Murphy and his band learned, as Klosterman puts it, is that "it's not the person that makes people feel that way, it's the place they're at in the culture." In a pure reflection of the times that spawned them, Murphy and his band ascended to a place of celebrity within, for lack of a better word, "hipster" culture, in part by brilliantly skewering it, most famously in their first single, "Losing My Edge," a kind of spoken-word rant in paranoia of  "the kids," which Murphy describes as "a sad hipster DJ Revolutionary Road."

If his interest in counteracting the standard structuring myths of rock stardom propelled his rock stardom, Murphy's philosophical conflict with the ethos fueling those myths seems to play a role in his retirement. At the most basic, it's a question of self-preservation. Every time he tours, the 41-year-old Murphy says, he returns with markedly more gray hair. "That's the visible sign. What's going on inside? I don't want to, like, die," he says. He pauses a beat, then says more firmly, "I don't want to die!" Rock & roll is in no small part about wish fulfillment in denial of mortality, but this is different: This is panic.
 
That the family dinner that closes the film is shot from outside the glass front of a Brooklyn restaurant is emblematic both of the project Murphy set in motion by disbanding the band and announcing his retreat from rock stardom, and of the film's function within that project. If the allegedly career-closing arena show was meant to put the band on a pedestal one last time for purposes of closure, Shut Up and Play the Hits offers intimate access into both the show and the reasoning behind it, and then symbolically and literally allows Murphy to step out of the spotlight and into private life. How long he'll stay there remains to be seen.

[@KarinaLongworth]

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