Throughout the years many musicians have recorded their exploits on film and video, mostly concert performances. There are a select few that capture key pivotal events in an artist’s career away from the stage. The most famous is probably Don’t Look Back, featuring Bob Dylan on tour in London 1965 as he changed his sound from folk to rock, causing great distress to some fans. Some Kind of Monster found Metallica on the brink of implosion when long-time bassist Jason Newsted left the band and singer James Hetfield battling addictions. Joining the ranks of compelling portraits is the Dixie Chicks with Shut Up & Sing.
Even people who didn’t listen to country music couldn’t avoid hearing about the Dixie Chicks back in 2003. At the beginning on their “Top of the World” tour, lead singer Natalie Maines spoke out in London during the run up to the second Iraq war at Shepherd's Bush Empire, the most fitting name of a venue for a detractor of President Bush’s plans to appear. Carl Jung would be proud. To the delight of the audience she said, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Not surprisingly, this upset many people back home in the States, especially a good portion of their fans who couldn’t separate the art from the artist. Radio stations dropped them from play lists; some from fan complaints, others in a proactive move.
The reaction to and aftermath of Maines’ comments as the women tour the U.S. are intercut with the band’s work on their follow-up album, the eventual multiple Grammy Award-winning Taking The Long Way. It sells well, although while a new band would love to sell over two million albums, that is well below the numbers of their previous releases. Sales for the supporting tour in the States weren’t great, causing them to cancel some dates and move to smaller venues. The story comes full circle as the band returns to the scene of the crime to perform at Shepherd's Bush Empire.
The film allows the viewer to see the women off stage, away from the music and hoopla. Maines is a fighter. She won’t back down or even concede just to get back in with her former fans and radio stations. She has the spirit of other outlaw country artists who blazed their own trail when Nashville no longer cast the spotlight on them. Sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire could very easily have kicked out Maines and moved on, but the group is a family, so they circled the wagons.
Shut Up & Sing presents an intriguing look inside at celebrities handling a public relations crisis and a real-life one as some nut sent a death threat that the authorities took very seriously. Although former fans will probably still be holding a grudge, the film is enjoyable. It provides a compelling look at people sticking together and standing up for what they believe as well as showing artists process their experiences through their craft.
Unfortunately, the DVD is bare bones, which is too bad because the extremely talented, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple was a co-director. I wanted to know her involvement and how the project came to be because the events began happening before the idea for the project took form. Were the Dixie Chicks originally planning on recording the tour for a DVD and luck was the main factor in this film’s creation? I would also have liked to have heard the band’s reaction to the film after time to reflect on the events and the ability to see the footage put together.