When I was a kid, I developed an interest in country music partly
because Johnny Cash had a television show and one summer the hosts
for the replacement series were the Everly Brothers. Now, the Everlys
weren't strictly rock, nor were they exclusively country, but a sort of
melding of the various styles. Over the years, I would occasionally
listen to other artists who sometimes held cross over appeal (for
example, Dolly Parton or Charlie Rich).
By the time I entered adulthood, though, I had more or less
stopped listening to the radio and got most of my knowledge of
musical artists from cable television. I was vaguely aware of the
Dixie Chicks, but I wouldn't call myself a fan or anything.
On March 20, 2003, at Shepherd's Bush in London, one of
the group's members, Natalie Maines, made an off the cuff comment
that turned into one of the biggest public relations nightmares in
the entertainment world. Early in the concert, with the knowledge
that American forces were planning to invade Iraq momentarily,
Maines famously quipped: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the
president of the United States is from Texas." The remark is captured
in the documentary SHUT UP & SING and it clearly comes across as
an irreverent and innocuous comment, not some charged political
statement. Yet within days, the Dixie Chicks were being excoriated
in the press, copies of their CDs were being burned or otherwise
destroyed, country radio stations were organizing boycotts and the
group faced censure from most of their core fans.
Now when you think about it, it's pretty ridiculous that things
escalated so much. Only a few weeks before, the trio had sung the
National Anthem at the Superbowl and were basically the darlings
of country radio. in a flash, it was all gone over a comment like that.
I would hate to imagine what might have happened had Maines
said something more incendiary.
In some ways the Dixie Chicks were lucky to have Oscar winning
documentarian Barbara Kopple and filmmaker Cecilia Peck on their side.
The two women teamed together and spent close to three years
shooting footage for SHUT UP & SING which traces the fallout from
Maines' statement through to the release of their latest album, "Taking
the Long Way," which has more of a rock flavor than a country one.
What emerges is something of a cautionary tale for artists
and should spark discussions about exactly what the principles of
free speech as guaranteed in the Constitution mean. Maines emerges
as a loose cannon. She's outspoken, but that is one of her best
qualities. Her fierce intelligence and determination emerge as the
film unfolds. She's not willing to take any guff from anyone. (Although
she is a little surprised that the "controversy" doesn't die down quickly.)
Maines is also supported by her band mates, sisters Martie Maguire and
Emily Robison and their put upon but wise manager Simon Renshaw.
The film also offers a small peak into the family lives of the
three women who are all working mothers. The sacrifices they
make for recording purposes and touring is counterbalanced by their
seemingly normal lives as wives and mothers.
Having been shut out of their milieu of country music, the
trio must take stock and decide how they plan to proceed in the future.
Ticket sales for some of their concerts suffer, and they are heckled
by some who attend, but eventually it appears the majority of the
crowd is there in support. The film details some of the decisions
that went into shaping public perception of them, from the infamous
cover of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY on which the women appeared nude
and covered in slogans to the plotted out appearances on television
shows. Eventually, they decide to collaborate on the writing of songs
for their new album and the excerpts which are heard show an
artistic growth and richness that was only previously hinted at.
There's that old saying that when life hands you lemons,
make lemonade, and that's exactly what gets shown in SHUT UP & SING.
I'm still not sure I'm a fan of their music, but I do admire these
women for their fortitude and their spunk.
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 93 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review One
|Shut Up & Sing!
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.