Lone Star Cinema: Shut Up and Sing
Hard to believe it's been almost ten years since the Bush administration led the invasion of Iraq, and sometime-Austinite/Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made her controversial comment during a 2003 London concert: "We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Documentary directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck use behind-the-scenes from that notorious Dixie Chicks concert and others from their 2003 tour, then follow the pop-country trio as they work on their album Taking the Long Way in Shut Up and Sing.
The first time I saw this film was in 2006 at a free screening put on by Norman Lear's liberal org People for the American Way. Those were some angry, frustrated days. Since then I've spotted Natalie Maines at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar (while her dad Lloyd accompanied Terri Hendrix) and the Dixie Chicks have gone on hiatus.
As I watched the film again, Maines' outspoken personality is quite evident. Sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire support her throughout the 2003 debacle as country radio stations take the Dixie Chicks hits off the air, the band's patriotism is questioned (I still find this so difficult to grasp as multiple people/groups talk smack about our current president with no repercussions), and the group suffers misogynistic attacks from media and others. Sponsors threaten to pull from their tour -- one consultant tells the ladies, "Try not to be judgemental of the President." Maines mentions that the American Red Cross wouldn't even accept a million-dollar donation from the group. It gets bad enough that the band receives a death threat at the Dallas stop on their tour.
Understandably after all this, Maines seems content to give up on winning back the country crowd, and the sound of Taking the Long Way reflects that decision. Shut Up and Sing shows the ladies coming up with lyrics for "Not Ready to Make Nice," and includes a look at the production process. The Dixie Chicks are dear friends, or appear so in the film. Still, slight strains are visible in 2005: Martie wonders about her role on this new album and Emily deals with pregnancy while living apart from her husband and kids during the making of this album.
As scenes from 2003 and 2005 are intermingled, we are shown glimpses of the women with their families and learn about the group's formation. Kopple and Peck throw in comments from various country station programmers, but the loudest voice in Shut Up and Sing is that of the Dixie Chicks themselves. Watching the news clips from 2003 -- with the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner thrown in (never forget) -- really took me back to the time when the jingoistic comments got airplay and saner voices were quieted. Thanks be to social media for giving us all the opportunity to speak out.
Bonus: The band's music scores the film, and I enjoyed singing along.
Austin/Texas connections: Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire both lived in Austin at the time of filming, and Emily Robison (and her hubby, singer Charlie) own a ranch near San Antonio. Their infamous Entertainment Weekly cover shoot is shown, and it looks like it took place at Austin Studios. The Dixie Chicks were inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2007.