Back in 2010, directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace decided to step away from music documentaries, following the release of their Blur-based documentary, No Distance Left to Run. However, just a few months later, the pair found themselves teaming up with LCD Soundsystem frontman, James Murphy, to create a documentary about his decision to end the band, and their farewell concert at Madison Square Gardens. TFR talk to the directors about working with the notoriously dictatorial Murphy on the resulting film, Shut Up and Play the Hits, and they tell us what they think about the singer’s controversial decision to call time on his musical creation.
How did your experience working on Shut Up and Play the Hits differ from that of No Distance Left to Run?
Dylan Southern: They were really different in terms of the working approach. No Distance Left To Run was probably more of a standard documentary… We wanted to be as invisible to them as possible; we weren’t there making friends with the band. What was happening [on No Distance Left To Run] was friends reuniting and bridges being rebuilt, so it was important to us that we documented it faithfully and it wasn’t interventional. On [Shut Up and Play the Hits], it was all geared around shooting a show and the day after – it was an intense period of production.
Will Lovelace: Conversely to Blur, we worked in collaboration with James [Murphy]. We started talking about making the film about a year earlier, when we knew the band were ending, but Madison Square Garden hadn’t been announced as a final show or even thought about.
DS: It seemed really interesting that they would so calmly make the decision to end the band. I think we were attracted to it because it was the opposite story to Blur, almost.
WL: And, obviously, we didn’t have posters of LCD Soundsystem on our wall when we were kids, like we did with Blur.
Is any of the footage from the day after the MSG staged?
DS: With any documentary, there is a little bit of artifice. Obviously, we didn’t stay overnight – [James Murphy] had to get up, let us in, and then go back to bed. There are moments when he’s more aware of the camera than others. We didn’t have cameras on roofs all over New York in case he walked past with the dog, but there were moments which really took us by surprise – like when he went to the kit room, we didn’t know what to expect there. When he breaks down, that was about 14 minutes into a take.
WL: I think that, by that point, he had totally forgotten that there was a camera there.
DS: We actually had to have a few discussions to keep that bit in the film. Then there’s bits with Keith [Wood], his manager, where those guys, if you see them together, have that relationship anyway. We went up to his farm to see what Keith’s doing in retirement, as an extra feature on the DVD, and it’s very Spinal Tap.
What do you make of James Murphy’s decision to disband LCD Soundsystem?
WL: When you first hear that’s what he’s going to do, it seems like a pretty crazy decision – why would you quit at the top of your game? But I think he understands a lot of reasons why he decided that he had to stop.
DS: In a way, it does sort of cement a band’s legacy. I always respect Ricky Gervais, for example, for stopping The Office after two series’ when he could have milked it for a long time. The idea of having a body of work and saying, “Right, that project’s over now,” is kind of admirable. I don’t think the film ever fully answers the question of why he did it, but what it does do is give you guys an idea of what it would feel like to make that decision.
As a producer, what did James Murphy think of the film? What was his influence?
WL: I think he liked it. He came into the edit on occasion and mixed the sound and so on. He was happy with the choice of songs we made – I think he found it tough that there weren’t certain songs in there, but he understood why they weren’t.
DS: Where the real control-freakery came in was on how the film actually sounded. He mixed all the sound; he sat up at the desk with the Dolby mixer.
WL: It’s very rare that you’d get someone who is that amazing a music person to be involved in the sound mixing.
Journalist Chuck Klosterman says in the film that Murphy is a fan of pretension, but were you wary of Shut Up and Play the Hits coming across as pretentious?
DS: I think we were very wary of that, which is why we sort of embraced it. We deliberately put that four-minute shot of him shaving in – it started as a joke! I think we hoped we could cancel the pretension out by being deliberately pretentious.
Why did you choose to focus on Murphy for much of the film, rather than other members of LCD Soundsystem? Do you know what the other featured band members think of the film?
DS: I think were were very focused on his decision and on his story. It wasn’t the type of film where you’d have talking head interviews with other members of the band and if we tracked them in the same way that we tracked James then it would become a sprawling mess.
WL: They all saw it at the premières… I think it’s probably quite weird for them to watch the final performance of the band on stage, but I think they all liked it.
Who came up with the title?
DS: It was actually starring us in the face the whole time. It was Win Butler, from Arcade Fire. During the film, James does this horrific, rambling introduction when they join him and it gets to a point where Win just shouts, “Shut up and play the hits!”
WL: It also speaks to James’ predicament a little bit.
The band are no more and the documentary is running in selected theatres for a limited amount of time – one night only at some places. Is the sense of exclusivity what makes this band, and thus your film, so interesting? Is it something that you were keen to retain?
DS: We’d like as many people as possible to see it in the cinema but, because of the nature of the film, it’s not going to compete with The Dark Knight Rises. So it made total sense for it to be one night only. It worked really well in the States because everywhere was selling out straight away – so then we had additional theatres added, some places booked it for a week, and it ended up in like 160 cinemas across the country.
WL: People made an effort to go and watch it together… it’s almost like the next best thing to being at the show.
What future projects do you have in the pipeline?
DS: We’ve got another documentary project – we can’t say what it is at the moment, but it’s not music. We also want to start putting together a feature project, moving away from documentaries and into fiction films. We’re looking at scripts, but also developing some ideas of our own.
Shut Up and Play the Hits is in cinemas now. The DVD, out on 8th October, and other exclusive items can be pre-ordered from www.shutupandplaythehits.com. Meanwhile, you can check out the clip below and read our review of the film here.