Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shut Up and Sing: Grade B


Shut Up and Sing

The Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, Martie McGuire).

This is a documentary of the rise and fall and rise of country music act, The Dixie Chicks, starting from the 2003 anti-war incident in which Natalie announced that she was ashamed that George Bush was from her home state of Texas. As is well-known, conservative groups then mounted a campaign against the group, boycotting their records and the radio stations that played them. Most country stations (owned by only a few giant corporations), stopped playing their records. The movie shows the girls discussing their dismay and anxiety, and trying to rebuild their career after this political victimization. The film ends before their triumphant 2007 best album Emmy. It is a moving personal story, a brief look behind the scenes at the group and the industry, and it has a nice free speech theme. The women are inviting and likeable and the music is good. Overall, however, there is little substance. This was not really a free speech constitutional issue. Natalie first tries to minimize her comment as a joke or “misstatement”, but then later decides it is a righteous issue. None of the women seems to realize that the whole incident had nothing to do with them, but that they were pawns in the battle between the reds and the blues in American culture. We don’t learn too much about the music industry, although there are some tantalizing clues. One gets the impression that country music fans and their conservative radio stations deserve each other. The fact that this documentary exists at all indicates some extremely shrewd marketing people in there somewhere. We don’t learn much about the women themselves. They have babies and husbands, and that’s wonderful, but there is very little biographical information. We have no idea where Natalie came from or who she is. We really don’t even know what the women believe. I’m sure I could look all this up, but the point is, the documentary is superficial. I can imagine in the future there might be a definitive bio-pic on the Chicks. This isn’t it. Still, as an annotation of a curious episode in American pop culture, it is a watchable film.

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