Last night was the premiere/farewell showing of the documentary following LCD Soundsystem‘s final show last April at Madison Square Garden. I attended the 3-set, 4-hour marathon performance last year and still get goose-bumps recalling the dance party, the bittersweet pleasure permeating the arena, and the magical sense of knowing I was taking part in a piece of modern musical history. What a bummer that this movie didn’t resurrect those sensations for me – yep, on a scale of 1-10, ranking it with other great concert films, I give it a 5.8.
First off, the concert footage is amazing. The elevated camera angles, the close-ups, and the shared glimpses of momentary wonder from band members are amazing. As is the sound mix. But the emotion is so blatant pouring off of everyone on the stage that the rest of the movie’s non-stage shots fail to live up to its level of compassion. Surely once the full concert is released on DVD along with this doc, the actual concert film will receive exponentially more viewings than its art-house sibling.
It seems like all the right footage is there – following James Murphy around the day before and after the show, and having crucial interview questions from the amazing Chuck Klosterman interspersed defines the whole movie. The thing is that Murphy doesn’t really have the magical, self-defining answers himself to put the whole thing into the necessary perspective we’re all looking for. The dichotomous existence between his rock-star self and the normal dude he strives to be is questioned but never really understood. And what sucks is that it seems if presented from the right perspective all those answers and the clear storyline are there. But instead, the movie tries to crawl into James Murphy’s brain, which at the time of filming was incredibly confused and lost. Thus the film itself tends to get jumbled in obscure transitions from the stage to Murphy’s apartment. The result is that you begin to feel just as uncertain about what’s actually happening as Murphy is, and while it’s a great act of imposing empathy on the viewer, I think it would have been a lot more interesting to really try to define the story from an outsider’s perspective. Essentially, they should have just let Klosterman produce the film.
The most compelling part of the film comes when Klosterman asks Murphy what he believes his greatest failure to be, as Klosterman claims it is an act’s greatest failure that truly defines them. Murphy is quick to reply that potentially quitting will be his biggest failure, while Chuck quickly jumps back at him saying, “No, I think your ability to stop being self-conscious of yourself is your biggest failure.” And he’s exactly right…music, and rock music, and dance music is all about existing in the moment. Sure, some fabulous things have happened from some incredibly intelligent rock stars making some brash decisions about their existence, but real passionate music comes from a place where you don’t give a fuck how history and the media sees you. It’s almost like James Murphy was so concerned about doing things the ‘right’ and the ‘righteous’ way that the very act of concern stopped being the ‘right’ and ‘righteous’ thing to do. I think the movie could have benefited hugely by including a couple brief fan interviews and quotes. For a band that was always about the intertwined unity and experience of itself and its fans, the movie is far too strictly presented from the top down. So it gives you a great sense of the sorrow and confusion ripping through Murphy, but it give little sense of the all-out wonder which the concert itself was. Perhaps the music so speaks for itself that we’ll have to wait for the full concert release for that wonder to be seen. Literally at times you want to scream “Shut Up and Play the Hits” at the screen, but unfortunately that’s not what the film is about. I suppose it is a great portrait of one man’s inability to live in the present, and his obsession with how the future will look back at him. However, a good concert film it is not. Still, it should be required viewing for anyone and everyone even slightly involved with the music business today, but wait until the full concert is released before you schedule any martini fueled dance-party viewing sessions.
Here’s the link to my full review of the concert from last year:
Here’s the preview: