For me there has only ever been one great concert film, just one, the Maysles brother’s Rolling Stone film, Gimme Shelter. Concert films have one main purpose, capturing the musicians tone and identity (real or false). Johnathan Demme’s Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense is wonderful because in its 90 minutes a person who knows nothing of this greatest of bands can come to understand what defines them (or rather, how David Byrne defines them). Gimme Shelter is a masterpiece because it takes this a step further, it captures the heathen ferocity of The Stones, but also what they came to define with their deadly concert: the death of the 60s and its idealism. The film showed the falsity of the image of Mick Jagger, how that creation is an archetype of the 60s, and thus the ultimate superficiality of the hippie movement. It was a treatise on the image through The Stones and defined by hippie idealism. This is greater than merely showing a concert, it is a defining piece of American history and identity without the absurd patriotism (and of course, using a British rock band that created a diseased version of blues only helps its power).
Shut Up and Play the Hits does not achieve that kind of revelation, nor is it trying to. However, it is much more than a simple concert film. It perfectly captures the brilliance and emotional power of LCD Soundsystem through stunning cinematography, thoughtful dialectic montage, and a piercing interview. It shows the primordial thrust of the music, the inability to stop moving when Murphy and his group start playing, but also the emotional honesty and depth that comes with that music. People could easily laugh at the kids that are crying and freaking out while watching this final concert, but for those that understand the music it is so simple to relate and the film brings that out so that you do not even need to know the music to get it.
What allows this seemingly simple concert film to become bigger is within Murphy. His music and perception of music transcends it and comes to define a generation. It could be easy to say his music is all samples, because every song is pulling openly from music history. There is no attempt to hide the influences and rips, but he does it not through the actual tracks, but through his own brilliant incorporation of it into his musical soul. Murphy’s music stands as the sonic version of contemporary culture. It is constant referencing, but those references are not just to look cool. They mix to form something new, the history inherent in them builds into something fresh and relevant. We are a generation defined not by our tastes, but by how our tastes coalesce.
In so many ways, music listening is more exciting now than ever. No longer is it easy to say “I listen to rock” or “I listen to pop,” because songs wander through them all. To call Kayne West “hip-hop” ignores how well he understands rock, pop, electronic, and even country. LCD Soundsystem were the greatest practitioners of this new form of music and identity formation. They stand as the gods of Naught’s music, dispensing knowledge and wonder to us mere mortals. Shut Up and Play the Hits gets, captures, contemplates, and uplifts this experience and that is what makes it one the greatest concert films ever made and one of the best films of the year.