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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 35.38%
Just Average: 1.54%
Pretty Crappy: 3.08%
Sucks: 3.08%

5 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Free speech isn't free, apparently."
4 stars

One of the ironies of the whole Dixie Chicks brouhaha in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War, when Natalie Maines announced to a sympathetic British audience "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas," is that the president of the United States isn't from Texas. George W. Bush was actually born in Connecticut, where his father grew up. Then again, only one of the three Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines) was born in Texas, either (though all three, like Dubya, were raised there). More to the point would've been "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from the United States."

Shut Up and Sing, co-directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA) with Cecelia Peck, deals with the absurdly disproportionate response to Maines' relatively benign comment. Up until that point the best-selling female group in history, the Chicks find themselves shut out by the country-music industry and its easily offended red-state fans. Their CDs are publicly stomped and burned; their songs no longer get airplay. It's a real John Lennon "Beatles are more popular than Jesus" moment, except that when Maines chokes out an understandably lukewarm apology, the furor doesn't die down. America at that time had been driven mad by 9/11 and gulled by Bush's lies about WMDs (and subtle rhetorical linkage between Saddam and bin Laden), and wasn't in the mood to hear dissent against a popular president. (Even in Massachusetts, where I took part in an anti-war protest around the same time Maines made the snark heard 'round the world, some people drove by yelling "You want another 9/11?" and "Kick Saddam's ass!")

Everything in the Dixie Chicks is "we" Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison present a unified front, and one assumes that all three of them agreed that the war was a bad idea. Maguire and Robison, however, are more circumspect and cautious than the spitfire Maines. One can agree with Maines, and empathize with her frustration, and still find her a tad arrogant. The other Chicks worry about the effect all the controversy will have on the hundreds of tour personnel who depend on good ticket sales for their livelihood. Maines, lying on a couch, her face twisted in contempt for the yahoos who've turned their backs on the band, couldn't care less. The movie isn't quite the idolatrous you-go-girl portrait one might expect: it shows us how the inhuman pressure of the situation pissed Maines off and kept her pissed off for months on end, pushing her past the tipping point, as the other two women support her but seem to yearn for it all to blow over.

Still, time vindicated Maines, and eventually, as the war ground on and more and more troops died in a conflict that was pre-sold as a cakewalk, placards started popping up at concerts: "NATALIE WAS RIGHT." The band's anti-war stance came to seem prescient, while their antagonist Toby Keith, with his moronic "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue," seemed more and more like a barroom crank and doofus (subsequently, he claimed that he never supported the war). The Chicks' post-controversy album Taking the Long Way took five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Country Album take that, Toby.

Kopple and Peck take the opportunity to catch the Chicks in a variety of performance modes onstage, in rehearsals, in the studio. Their unity extends beautifully to their music, and it's not surprising that the Dixie Chicks, having alienated some of their Bible-belt fanbase, picked up new ideological fans who bought their album just to support their politics and wound up actually enjoying the songs. Like many another great country act k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash the Chicks straddle the line between country and rock, and perhaps they have the controversy to thank for guiding them towards a new sound, a new voice, and a new audience.

Ultimately, "Shut Up and Sing" is about the cost of free speech at the major populist level, when you have to worry about corporate sponsors (Lipton Tea) pulling out of your tour after you've criticized a president something most of us generally don't fret over. If the Dixie Chicks weren't so huge, the comment would've passed unnoticed, but they became the accidental tip of the spear of pop-cultural dissent aimed at the Bush administration. As noted, they weren't martyrs for long, and more and more stars would come forward to join them in protest, but the Chicks took the heat and the shunning and the death threats first. Does that make them portraits in courage? In this media-driven culture that thrives on tabloid abrasion and eschews thought against the grain, perhaps.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14929&reviewer=416
originally posted: 05/01/07 22:01:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/17/07 Kellon Kerr This was a great to the point movie expressing their freedom of speech. 4 stars
11/05/07 Jim Good movie. Ummmm, shouldn't HWBS use a CAPTCHA or something to filter the spam? 5 stars
8/07/07 Belinda Awesome 5 stars
2/26/07 david I loved this movie! makes you want to kick the S#!T out of some of those ex fans! 5 stars
1/09/07 Xtine Wasn't a fan before, but am now. Who are the real patriots? 5 stars
12/28/06 riceve Very interesting. 5 stars
12/23/06 Nancy Taylor-Babcock Every American should see it 5 stars
12/15/06 Richard Paquette Wasted my time 2 stars
12/12/06 William Goss Since when did music and politics need to be exclusive? Rather good, despite slant. 4 stars
12/07/06 CW Loved it! I'm a native Texan & I can totally relate to Natalie's infamous comment. 5 stars
12/01/06 shagtex good to see the girls and what they had to go through because some forgot the constitution 4 stars
11/29/06 Carol Awesome documentary, makes you think and feel. 5 stars
11/26/06 aca Inspiring movie about courageous souls who wont back down to hatred in red USA. go see it! 5 stars
11/19/06 michael don't really go for country but worth a look and wish more had said something like they did 5 stars
11/19/06 AP Country music's loss is America's gain! Outstanding movie. GO SEE IT!!! 5 stars
11/19/06 A Z EXCELLENT, best documentary of the year!!! 5 stars
11/17/06 annie Excellent! 5 stars
11/15/06 KC Get on your tractors and go see this movie! 5 stars
11/12/06 Chell AMAZING FILM! So moving, and worth every cent! 5 stars
11/11/06 S22 OST Sisterhood at it's best a must for a Chicks fans. long may they continue to have their say 5 stars
11/08/06 jeanne coleman entertaining, great insight into the girls, excellent commentary 4 stars
10/30/06 Kathie Excellent Documentary. Three cheers to three great ladies and all those who work so hard wi 5 stars
10/30/06 Von Daven The Sirens are leading you to the rocks.. 1 stars
10/29/06 Crystal It was worth the money. I highly support the chicks. 5 stars
10/29/06 Natalie Amazing film, very strong woman ! I have much respect for them! 5 stars
10/10/06 Lori This documentary is stellar! I cried. The Chicks are brave patriots. 5 stars
10/05/06 Ole Man BourbonThere's a reality lying somewhere between T Keith and N There's a reality lying somewhere between T Keith and N Maines, too bad nobody cares 2 stars
10/04/06 Pritchett 'Never liked their hick music, but I definitely support their right to say what they please 5 stars
9/20/06 Ancaster Film Fest Only complaint I have is the small screen width. 4 stars
9/17/06 denny maybe another academy award for kopple'; maybe best of festival 5 stars
9/13/06 Catherine Lewis awesome 5 stars
9/13/06 Anita Lewis excellent movie 5 stars
8/22/06 Sasha Stein Pretty good, though could have been much better; much is still left on the table. 3 stars
8/06/06 Dar Smith Don't Bother 1 stars
8/04/06 elsa finch greatest documentary 5 stars
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  DVD: 20-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Barbara Kopple
  Cecilia Peck

Written by

  The Dixie Chicks

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