Shut Up and Play the Hits Directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace Oscilloscope Pictures July 18 at the Tivoli
By Karina Longworth
"When we started the band, suddenly we were, like, New York famous. We could get into anyplace, but you know--I was never recognized on a plane."
James Murphy, former frontman of self-reflexive post-punk dance band LCD Soundsystem, has called to talk about Shut Up and Play the Hits, a new film documenting LCD's sold-out April 2011 farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. He's attempting explain why he chose to call it quits on a band that, 10 years after the landmark first single "Losing My Edge," was indisputably at the peak of its success. In addition to the predictable ubiquity in Silverlake and Williamsburg, LCD's third and final full-length, This Is Happening, had debuted in the overall Billboard Top 10 and displaced Lady Gaga at the top of the dance chart. Anna Kendrick starred in one video; Spike Jonze directed another. The higher profile was part of the problem.
"I felt the band getting bigger, but I was always like, well, it doesn't matter when I can come back to New York, where nobody gives a shit. And then I came back to New York, and people started giving more of a shit, so I was at the beginning of me not wanting, um . . ."
Murphy, chatting while en route to his home in Brooklyn, interrupts himself. "I'm looking out of my car, up at Terry Richardson having an animated conversation through a window," he marvels. "He's flailing his arms a lot. He's looking at me." The legendarily sleazy photographer, Murphy suggests, is the epitome of "New York famous"--a household name in enough households to improve his standard of living, without impinging on his actual life. "I wasn't that interested in actual famous-people fame, you know what I mean?"
Murphy has never been a typical rock star, and Shut Up is by no means a conventional rock doc. Co-directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace condense the four-hour, 29-song MSG show into a few full performances of "hits" like "North American Scum," "New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down," and "I Can Change" interwoven with excerpts from an interview with Murphy conducted a week before the show by pop-culture pundit Chuck Klosterman and vérité footage of Murphy shot the morning after MSG, tracing his first day as a 41-year-old rock-and-roll "retiree." Moments of onstage transcendence are sandwiched between Murphy's preshow contemplations of pretension and rock-star mythology, and postshow evidence of life going on at its most mundane. Talking to Klosterman, Murphy marvels that even the most superhuman pop star "is just a dude. He has to check his e-mail." The morning after his triumphant goodbye show, Murphy still has to get out of bed to walk the dog.
"We were very deliberate about the day after being the perspective from which we view the story," Southern says. "You have this huge show at this iconic venue, and it's a kind of euphoric event. And the best position to look at some of the reasons why you would end the band and what that would feel like the day after--the sobriety of the next morning and the fact that nothing really happens."
"I wanted it to be about what it's like when you make things," Murphy says. "The band, the movie--everything in some way is always about what it feels like to make something, the actualities. Not the myth of being a maker."
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