Shut Up & Sing
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Shut Up & Sing

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The United States of America has from the start been a nation founded on freedom. One of the must treasured of these freedoms is the right of free speech. Throughout history many governments did not take well to its citizens speaking out contrary to the government. Here in the States people have spoken out against the popular consensus and even our elected leaders. In the sixties colleges were filled with young people protesting the war in Viet Nam. Even someone with a dubious career as Larry Flynt, pubisher of ‘Hustler’ magazine one said, if the first amendment can’t protect the worse of us it cannot protect the best. In the last few years a little off the cuff remark has grown into a major controversy. This controversy is more about the freedom of speech and how it actually works in the public venue that it was about the actual remark.

In 2003 the popular country ‘cross over’ group, the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, where playing a concert in London. While backstage at the Shepherds Bush Empire theater Maines was seen inquiring about the status of the recently launched American war in Iraq. In a casual comment Maines states "We're ashamed the president is from Texas". As she turned to her to her fellow ‘Chicks’ Maines laughs not realizing the full impact those seven words would bring. This documentary begins in 2006 as the Chicks are in the studio working on their newest album. We then go back in time to them kicking off a world tour sponsored by Lipton Tea, the tour that would bring them to a moment that would change their lives and polarize a nation.

Outside the venue in the streets of London people where already protesting the news of a war in Iraq. Inside the ladies had just finished their new single, "Travelin' Soldier" based on a Viet Nam solider leaving his girl behind while he went to war. Maines speaks softly to the audience saying they Chicks are against violence and war. She then spoke ‘THOSE’ words. Almost immediately London papers ran the story. Within the next day it was world wide news. The initial reaction against the Dixie Chicks was their major fan base, country western music fans. Web sites start to denounce them, particularly Maines. The hottest song in the country, ‘Travelin’ Solider’ fell like a rock from the country charts. People called their favorite country radio stations demanding they stop playing anything from the Chick. Rallies gathered to burn their discs. The Free Republic was a group that became the focal point for the anti Dixie Chick movement. People even made comments saying they wanted the Chicks tied to a bomb and dropped in Iraq. Even though Maines stated that while she was disappointed with the actions of the President she supported the troops. People didn’t seem to hear that, they became the poster girls for anti American sentiment. Naturally, their label was upset. After all the Dixie Chicks are a brand name and this was affecting their sales. In one of many behind the scenes looks of the ladies conferring with their managers Maines points out that the up side is they are getting more publicity than ever. The ever appeared naked on the cover of Entertainment Weekly with the prerogative in black letters on their bodies. In an interview with Diane Sawyer the ladies held together. Maines regretted how her words where taken but did not feel it was wrong to speak out. With this interview the first glimmer of free speech began to make its way to the forefront.

As the Chicks go back to working on their new album there was a new sense of freedom. After all they can now say pretty much anything. Emily Robison was in her last trimester of her pregnancy and there was a feeling of liberation as they began to right almost he whole album. She would balance her banjo on her large belly; eyes closed getting into the music. These three women never sought out the controversy they were pulled into; they just wanted to share their music. Since they wrote most of the songs for the new albums they were not about to shy away from the outright hatred many former fans had towards them. There is no hatred in these new lyrics. There is only a sense that they would stand up for their right to say what they feel. Martie Maguire does express some concern that the album was too much about Maines. She is the member of the group who seems to keep the trio grounded. They do have to sell albums when all is said and done. Maguire also reminds all involved that while Maines is the lead singer of the group it is a group not a solo acts. The viewpoints of the other two have to be addressed. Some scenes of long standing friends give some of the background of the group. Although they were initially a country group they would grow into the best selling female group of all time. When they are writing a song the three sit around, interrupted by visits from their children. It is a collaborative effort and it shows in their songs. Robison’s pregnancy offers a little insight into their personal lives. Both she and her sister, Maguire, had problems getting pregnant. The audience is shown a humanizing look at the real people behind all the controversy. When the time comes to deliver we see Maines and Maguire sitting with Robison waiting for the new arrival. When her twins are delivered you don’t see an outspoken musician, you see a mother holding her new born babies.

The strength of this film is in its humanity. It speaks to the issues without being overly didactic. These are real women who happen to have access to a public platform far greater than most wives and mothers. Even though only two of then are biologically sisters there is a sense of community between all three. The film shows how the Chicks had to re-think their marketing plans. Instead of relying on country venue they had to branch out. Since most of their fan base now wanted them dead they looked to a broader audience. The Chicks where called communist, stupid and callow. Police had to be called in for added security. The central issue of the documentary is their right to say what they want even if it is not the most popular sentiment at the moment. As the film shows as time went on the acceptance of the war and the President began to falter. President Bush is shown in that famous shot of him standing before a banner ‘Mission Accomplished’ yet the war continues. This film gets the ideas across but never pushes them in your face. If we are fighting overseas for freedom shouldn’t we allow freed here on our home soil? The tag line of the film comes from one protesters comment that fee speech is okay as long as you don’t say it in a public place. As a post script the Chicks where nominated for five 2006 Grammies. They took home all of them. Their careers are now better than ever.

The Weinstein Company brings this film to DVD and it is a must have. My only regret is there are no extras provided. I would have likes a few of their music videos or at least a couple of full songs on the disc. The video is in full screen and is very well done. The audio is only Dolby two channel surround but it is very robust. These are very talented women. This is an important film as well as an entertaining one. The issue of the extent of free speech is at the very heart of this country’s founding principles and this films provides a look at one case where these principles where challenged. No matter which side you fall on this is one film to get.

I made by bed, and I sleep like a baby,
With no regrets and I don't mind saying,
It's a sad sad story
That a mother will teach her daughter
that she ought to hate a perfect stranger.
And how in the world
Can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Saying that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

Posted 02/14/07

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