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Shut Up & Sing

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing has more emotion and excitement than anything Hollywood has made up all year.


In 2003, in the prime of their country music careers, the Dixie Chicks embarked on a world tour. At a concert in London, in between songs, in an impromptu moment on the eve of the Iraq war, Natalie Maines said she was ashamed that President Bush was from her home state of Texas. The crowd went wild and the concert went on. Back home, CNN picked up the London news reports. The country community was outraged. They protested, boycotted, burned and crushed Dixie Chick CDs and called them un-American. Over the course of their tour, the Dixie Chicks tried to fire back, but radio refused to play their music and death threats at their concerts required increased security. Two years later, The Dixie Chicks set about writing a new album. Fueled by rage and emotion, they compiled their new songs. The film follows both stories, cutting back and forth from 2003 to 2005 to show the inspirations for their new hits and the danger of speaking one's mind. Even if you disagree with the comment, you can see the hysteria in bloom and our basic values lost in society. The Chicks handle the scandal with class, despite their salacious manager's joyful media whoring. Through the darkest times, they stick together. Hollywood can't invent stories like this--their redemption is sweeter than any hero getting the girl or saving the world.


Everyone is just being themselves, but they are the liveliest bunch we've seen on film in years. Maines is a spitfire with an answer for everything, and it all makes sense. She's never self-righteous, just strong. Her two collaborators, Emily Robison and Marty Maguire, serve more as supporting characters standing by Maines, although they have moments of indifference and sadness as well. Their manager is almost a fascinating villain, potentially causing more trouble with his salesman-like approach to milking PR opportunities. His lack of self-editing could be dangerous but the Chicks come to their senses and reject his most outrageous ideas. George W. Bush gives the worst performance in a CNN clip, talking about hurt feelings while the girls face death threats. It does all seem very natural, like the girls aren't playing for the cameras at all. Of course, it could be that they're just natural performers, but these feel like candid moments.


Directors Barbara Kopple and Celia Peck lucked out when they happened to be following the concert tour as the event of cinematic proportions occurred. What began as a fluff DVD extra is now an inside look at the makings of a PR crisis. From within the inner circle, it shows managers feeding off of political heat and publicists advising against dramatic responses, like the controversial Entertainment Weekly cover photo. Kopple and Peck also capture the human ramifications of punditry as the Dixie Chicks fear for their lives and their ability to care for their families with a career in jeopardy. But the filmmakers did not just settle for being in the right place at the right time. The crew rejoined the Chicks in 2005, as they wrote a new album and expertly cut back and forth between the two time periods. The filmmakers turn the tour and album pre-production into parallel stories reflexively informing one another. They chose the perfect pundit clips to illustrate the broader media while the majority of the film follows the Chicks. The music is used at appropriate moments. It's not a musical but music is The Dixie Chicks' trade, so it's great to see why their talent is worth fighting for.

Bottom Line rated this film 4 stars.