I'm not a huge country music fan. When I heard Gretchen Wilson's Redneck Woman, I had to Google "Ol' Bocephus" since I had no idea who that was (despite once being told). I had a basic familiarity with the Dixie Chicks, and when their new album came out a few months ago, the song The Long Way Around became an instant personal favorite. I wasn't paying terribly close attention when "the top of the world came crashin' down" for lead singer Natalie Maines and company in 2003, but it always seemed to me like they got a raw deal from the country music world. So it was with great interest that I saw Shut Up And Sing, a documentary that chronicles the career and life altering events that can happen following one (arguably) ill-advised offhand comment.
The movie starts off with a behind-the-scenes look at a Chicks concert in London, England, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Maines and fellow chicks Martie Maguire and Emily Robison are roaming the bowels of "Shepherd's Bush" (this looks like the London equivalent of Radio City Music Hall, but I can't say for sure) all the while checking the TV screens to see if the invasion has begun. There are also shots of anti-war protests that took place in London. This is an effective setup because it helps us see what Maines was experiencing on that fateful night. Later, between songs, she utters the words that would be the impetus of this movie and their next album - "We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." I'm of the belief that famous quotes are always more interesting when seen directly, rather than quoted in print, and since this was the first time I had actually SEEN the footage, it was fascinating. Whether or not one agrees that Maines should have said this is, to me, not relevant for the purposes of judging this movie. I'm of the belief that it's always important to see all sides of a story, regardless of where one may stand on an issue.
What happens next is chronicled through footage. The Chicks' manager, Simon Renshaw, informs them of the furor that the comment has caused back in the U.S. He tries to work with them to come up with a strategy. Should Maines apologize? If so, what should she say? Should it be on behalf of all three, or just Maines? To watch the decision-making process is quite compelling.
We then see footage of what happened back in the U.S., mainly in the south and west. Former fans tossing CD's into a fire, posters deriding the band with various slurs, many of it initiated (according to the film) by a group calling itself FreeRepublic.com. The Chicks continue a worldwide tour, and finally return home. At their first U.S. "ABC" (after Bush comment) concert, Maines acknowledges the issue with the crowd in a manner that makes it difficult to not root for her. She comes across as warm and sincere, and all along it seems like she can't stop herself from thinking - what's the big deal?
But it WAS a big deal. Whether or not it should have been is not really explored in the movie, and I think that helps make it work. We see Maines, Maguire, and Robison trying to figure out where to go with their careers. What sort of album should they make? What sort of lyrics should they write? With the help of producer Rick Rubin, they record Taking The Long Way. Though I'm not a huge fan of the music in the song Not Ready To Make Nice, it's kind of hard to not get choked up as Maines belts it out. The Chicks face obstacle after obstacle, including a death threat (referenced in the aforementioned song), poor ticket sales, and various "domestic" issues. I could've done without much of the cutesy baby footage, but I understand why it's there. It's all part of what influenced the music in the album, which is the end result of a tumultuous period. There's some mild pandering to the anti-Bush crowd, but it seems to be in good fun. I'd rather watch that than see a shot of Emily Robison's abdomen when she's 8.5 months pregnant with twins, but maybe that's just me.
Everything that happened to the Chicks is reflected in their album. The movie is really an insight into how they took an experience that they probably wouldn't have thought twice about had nobody noticed and used it in a way that helped them to do what they do best - express themselves through music. If you're a Dixie Chicks fan, this is probably a must-see. If you're a music documentary fan, it's not as rife with interesting conflict as Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster (the only recent one I've seen, so I couldn't help but compare), but it takes us through the same creative process.
Not to get too political because I'm really indifferent to the opinions of actors/singers, but I really would find it difficult to believe that anyone who thinks Natalie Maines was wrong for saying what she did would still dislike her after seeing this movie. She's got heart, she's got soul, and she has an absolutely beautiful voice. You'll always have at least one fan right here, Natalie...
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Movie Mood: Serious Movie
Viewing Method: Other
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Nothing