On February 5th, 2011, the popular electronic punk band LCD Soundystem announced via their official website that they were disbanding. They would play a string of shows in New York, finishing with a swan song performance at Madison Square Garden. Making his last television appearance as part of LCD Soundsystem on "The Colbert Report," frontman and creator James Murphy is grilled by Colbert about his decision to quit. "There's only three ways to end your career as a rocker," Colbert tells him. "Overdose, overstay your welcome, or write Spider-Man: The Musical. Why walk away from fame?"
Shut Up and Play the Hits is a non-linear chronicle of the show and the day afterward, with some additional footage recorded a week before the show (as well as the clips from "The Colbert Report"). Filmmakers Dylan Southern and William Lovelace jump between the concert itself, and the events of the following day, in which Murphy considers what life will be like post-LCD Soundsystem. They also incorporate footage of Murphy being interviewed by Chuck Klosterman at a restaurant, talking about the history and the end of the band.
The concert footage is pretty spectacular. Even some of the more lavish home video presentations of concerts tend to feel restricted by the number of angles possible, but Hits contains plenty of dynamic handheld footage, with the camera jumping all around the elaborate stage. Combined with the lighting, it's very rare that two angles look exactly alike, keeping the concert fresh. The band is also in fine form, concluding their ten-year journey on a high note. There's only so much of the four hour show in the 108-minute movie, especially since it has to "compete" with other material, but it looks and sounds great, effectively tapping the viewer into the loose but enthusiastic vibe of everyone involved.
Elsewhere, the directors study the mundane moments of rock star retirement. Murphy takes his dog out for a walk, then goes to an office he admits he hasn't been to in over a year and fiddles with the espresso machine (during his "Colbert Report" appearance, he jokes that he'd like to devote more time to making coffee in his retirement). Later, he heads to a lunch meeting with his manager Keith Wood, who is also retiring, and seems to skip out on a goodbye dinner with his other bandmates. The most poignant moment comes when Murphy goes to look at the storage unit with the band's equipment to decide what to do with it; although Southern and Lovelace push their luck a little with cutaways to photos of the band from earlier in their run, Murphy's wave of emotion at the sight of the warehouse is a punch to the gut.
There's also the Klosterman material, in which the writer picks at Murphy's thought process with questions about the nature of art and the legacy of LCD Soundsystem, many of which cause Murphy to pause for several seconds before answering, his eyes darting back and forth. There's a sense that Murphy is determined to answer earnestly, even if the questions are daunting to consider. Two of the topics provide a sliver of insight into the band's end. Murphy tells Klosterman about his image of rock stars: "David Bowie. In my mind, he was from outer space. Like, he's not a person. This isn't a person that would wake up, and whose foot would hurt because they kicked a couch the night before." Southern and Lovelace jump to this soundbyte, laid over footage of Murphy shaving, shortly after the film's energetic first song, in which he casually strides on stage to thunderous applause and throws himself into "Dance Yrself Clean," finishing by holding a note while the crowd pulses and the camera spins around him.
In the same segment, Murphy also talks about how he was a pretentious kid, absorbing art that was way over his head in order to appear "cool" and later discovering it made up a big part of who he is, how he believed he couldn't be a rock star, and the ideas behind the song "Losing My Edge," which was the band's first single. Taken together, there's a sense that Murphy feels he pulled a fast one on the rock world, using the facade provided by his pretention to run off with a stolen piece of cultural cachet, and that even at the beginning, he heard the footsteps of those who were going to find him out. What Southern and Lovelace prove, by showing us both, is that the guy with his dog on the subway and the guy who can command the attention of a sold-out Madison Square Garden are not that hard to reconcile. Murphy had nothing to worry about.
As with all Oscilloscope releases, Shut Up and Play the Hits is offered in a fantastic-looking cardboard slipcase, with a great snapshot from the feature film on the front cover. When you slide out the disc sleeve, a short review of the film (and the experience of participating in the concert) by Nick Sylvester is printed on one side, and the poster for the show is printed on the other. Opening it up once reveals another nice photo from the film of Murphy and his dog, and finally opening it the rest of the way reveals a panoramic shot from the stage after the final song. On the left side, two sleeves hold the concert discs, and one sleeve holds the film and special features disc on the right, with a track list for the concert in the middle. There is also a postcard inside the case so that buyers can subscribe to Oscilloscope's monthly DVD mailing service.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, this is a very nice standard-definition presentation. The image is a little on the soft side, but the disc does a good job dealing with the various color and lighting changes that occur during the concert. Some complicated shots, like an early snippet showing Murphy's record collection, look a little rough around the edges, with some aliasing and tiny artifacts, but most of the time the grain is decently rendered. Colors appear intact, with a nice natural look -- so many filmmakers shoot for the same look (very short depth of field, on-the-fly refocusing), but few can resist amping up the colors. The soundtrack was mixed by Murphy himself, so it's no surprise it sounds excellent, filling Madison Square Garden with a sold-out crowd, and then pushing them to the background for the performances, which have great directionality and balance. Strangely, the auto-selected track on the disc seems to be the LPCM 2.0 mix, so don't forget to switch it over to the full 5.1 experience. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.
On Disc One, a handful of short-but-sweet supplements are included. The first is additional footage of Chuck Klosterman's interview (18:46) with Murphy. The extra is introduced by a menu page that says the pair talked for three hours, but this is a pared-down assortment of interesting snippets from their discussion, broken up by title cards. Well worth watching.
Next, two outtakes (4:50, 0:17) are included. The first is some footage of the choir rehearsing, and the other is a short supercut of swearing from the movie. Nothing spectacular.
The first disc ends with "Catching Up with Keith" (10:12), a brief, funny featurette in which Murphy goes to visit Keith in upstate New York. Murphy both interviews Keith as they walk around his expansive property, but also records the sound, which makes for some funny side moments.
Of course, the real extra is on Discs Two and Three: the entire Madison Square Garden farewell show (Disc Two: 1:46:26; Disc Three: 1:48:08), presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 and LPCM 2.0, just like the feature film. I imagine there are probably plenty of fans who would've bought a concert DVD all by itself, so either way you slice it, you're getting a hell of an extra feature. It doesn't hurt that the concert is cut together as dynamically as the feature itself, putting it a notch above the usual filmed concert experience.
A promo for Oscilloscope plays before the main menu on Disc One. An original theatrical trailer is also included.
Shut Up and Play the Hits deftly juggles discussion about art, the history and conclusion of LCD Soundsystem, and the requirements of a concert film. The disc looks and sounds great, the extras are good, and on top of it all, you get the entire three-and-a-half hour show on disc in 5.1, which is a two-disc set that would've been worth the price of a DVD all by itself. Considering the value and the quality of everything included, this package earns entry into the DVDTalk Collector's Series.
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