For a fans-only concert film, then, this is lavish and gratifying. But when Shut Up and Play the Hits stops shutting up and playing the hits, its limitations become pretty glaring.
There’s so much more here to cover, and Murphy would make a legitimately fascinating subject for a more ambitious documentary film—this punk and postpunk crate-digger, DJ, producer, label head and finally rock star oversaw the evolution of New York indie culture into a dance-oriented genre melting pot (throwing away guitars, buying syths; throwing away synths, buying guitars), creating while also commenting, quite brilliantly, upon the Brooklyn that’s become, in the past decade or decade and a half, the center of the known fashionable universe.
But when the movie leaves Madison Square Garden to consider Murphy’s career, it does so with clips from an interview with a slightly nervous-seeming Chuck Klosterman, framing questions around rushed-through explanations of irrelevant pet theories; the staged introspection occasionally yields insights, from the very articulate Murphy, about what it means to identify with music, emotionally but also in terms of cultural positioning (he’s spent a lifetime thinking about the ethics of posing); and about maintaining that desire for transformation amid the realities of rock-life logistics and biology. This is good stuff, but much of it could be said by anyone (not necessarily so well), and it serves mainly to provide the filmmakers with testaments to the power of music, to be played over shots of ecstatic, rippling crowds dancing themselves clean, and to set up Murphy’s admission of ambivalence over ending the band.
The interview plays over sad-face and obviously camera-benefiting morning-after footage of Murph walking his French bulldog in Williamsburg, making coffee, checking in with gear and people, and preparing to meet the band for a celebratory dinner and Marlow and Sons, which is weirdly mentioned by name several times and receives a flattering establishing shot. (Murphy and manager Keith Wood are executive producers here, so it’s unfortunate but hardly surprising that no one asks him to reflect on his side job composing Bedford Avenue jingles on commission from Madison Avenue; even this film comes stamped with the imprimatur of the Creators Project, Vice’s successful hipster corporate-branding arm.) The film ends with shots picking out the audience members most lost in the throes of exaggerated emotion, and keep cutting back and forth among them; it’s a faintly ridiculous and as an elegy it’s hardly in keeping with Murphy’s own deeply self-conscious reflections on music fandom.