Last night, my Bonnie and I went to see the new Dixie Chicks’ documentary, Shut Up and Sing. Given that it was directed by one of my favorite documentarians, Barbara Kopple, I had fairly high expectations. I was not let down. This was a charming, well crafted film. Regardless of your feelings about the Dixie Chicks (e.g., I own none of their CDs, have only heard their hits) and regardless of how you felt about the controversy they were embroiled in since Natalie Maines told a London audience that she was ashamed that George Bush is from Texas (the controversy frames the film), you will enjoy this movie. You will be strangely moved by this movie.
I would have a hard time telling you from audience reaction how you’ll feel about the film. Oddly enough, given my most recent Xark post, I saw the film at a sold out screening that served as a fundraiser for Harold Ford, Jr. So, the audience with which I saw it was loud, laughing and yelling every time Bush showed up on screen and every time Natalie made a wise crack about him (and you should have heard the audience when she turned to the screen and called Bush a “dumb !@#!$”). But that type of partisan entertainment generally turns me off. This film, however, overcame all my normal triggers. How do I describe it without using trite and clichéd phrases? I don’t think I can. What makes the film so wonderful is that for the most part, it’s about the relationship between the three members of the band. You can tell that they’re caught up in a whirlwind, and while they’re unsure of how to proceed at times, while they’re obviously concerned about how they’ve lost control of their own spin, they never hesitate to believe in each other, and they rarely hesitate to believe in their own voices. Some of the reviews I’ve read note that watching each of them with their husbands and children humanizes them, and it’s hard to disagree with that. However, that’s not what makes this film work. The film works on an emotional level because you get to see people acting so lovingly with one another during a crisis. If anything, the Chicks aren’t humanized by scenes with their family; the Chicks are humanized by understanding that they are each other’s family, a family with “traditional” values, if that refers to caring, loving and supporting.
Is the film partisan? Well, of course, but only in almost necessary ways. For example, the viewer sees film clips of Cheney and Rumsfield before the war telling Americans that it is fact, rather than an assumption or a guess, that Iraq now has weapons of mass destruction. However, these scenes serve the more powerful purpose of reminding the viewer of the climate in which lead singer Natalie Maines first uttered her disdain for Bush. There’s also a scene in which the Chicks public relations expert is advising them to be careful in an upcoming television interview because, paraphrasing him, “In two weeks, the looting will be over, there will be peace and freedom inIraq, and Bush’s approval ratings will be higher than ever.” Again, it’s a funny line now, but it serves the purpose in the film of reminding us of what a difficult rhetorical situation they were in when they first began speaking out about the war. Right or wrong, they were gutsy.
OK, so one final comment/question: There are numerous scenes of yokels throwing Dixie Chicks’ CDs into garbage cans and/or of groups having the CDs steamrolled. Here’s what I don’t get: we’ve all seen hundreds of images of this happening in the past. From Southerners throwing away “rock-n-roll” albums that were associated with black Americans to former Beatles’ fans throwing away their Beatles’ paraphernalia after John’s famous line about the Beatles and Jesus—a horribly misunderstood line. At any rate, I’ve never seen one of those film clips where the people burning the albums or CDs or what have you didn’t end up looking like short sighted morons. With that in mind, how could you ever get yourself caught on film restaging these same acts. Am I perhaps wrong? Do people sometimes look at those old clips and cheer for the album burners?
Forgive me that diversion, as I’m posting about Shut Up and Sing for the simple reason that I think you’ll like it. Regardless of your politics (although I’d love to have a right winger let me know how they saw the film) and regardless of how you feel about the Chicks aesthetically, this is a winner. See it.