Shut Up and Sing
2006, R, 100 min. Directed by Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 17, 2006
The statement heard round the world was really an offhanded bit of stage banter delivered by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks during a 2003 concert in London. The group's show coincided with the imminent invasion of Iraq by America, back in the days when President Bush's popularity ratings were ever-climbing undeterred. “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” Maines uttered – and, before you know it, the right-wing bloggers were off and running, shoving the statement in front the American populace, who might otherwise never have been privy to the comment. Thus began a three-year period during which the Chicks were renounced by hordes of red-state fans who were encouraged to trash their records. Instead of a passing event, the incident sparked years of fallout, during which the band who, up until that point had been the bestselling female group in history, was subject to death threats, hate mail, and nonexistent record sales and touring opportunities. This documentary reveals the behind-the-scenes story of what occurred in the band's life during those three years. It was a time of reassessment, threatened sponsor support, loss of income, and soul-searching. Lucky for all of us that Maines and her bandmates, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, decided to stick to their principles and not be browbeaten into surrendering their freedom of speech. Kopple, the double Oscar-winner for Harlan County, USA and American Dream, and her filmmaking partner Peck, one of the producers of Kopple's HBO special The Hamptons, spend time off and on with the band over those years as they evaluate their options, go on the road, consult constantly with their supportive manager Simon Renshaw, and record their latest album with producer Rick Rubin. Like most of Kopple's work, this film documents a miscarriage of American justice and/or the darker underside of a specific music phenomenon. The Dixie Chicks' struggle with the seemingly conflicting demands of art and commerce is ready-made for this director's camera. The film also captures the sustaining friendship that gets the three musicians through their muddle: This could have easily been turned into Maines' problem alone, and though the other two don't seem wild about Maines' comments, they stick together nevertheless. (If you're among those who were offended by Maines' words, you'll be even less pleased to hear what she calls our president in this film.) Though the advertising plays up the film's Bush-bashing angle, it gives a false impression. This is really more of a backstage drama. This episode helped the band members turn from chicks into women, and the fact that they're still "not ready to make nice" offers inspiration to us all. (See related interview with the directors in last week's issue at austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid%3A418677.)