An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

          “Dixie Chicks:  Shut Up and Sing” is still another graphic example that our nation has become stubbornly intolerant of public dissent.  Barbara Kopple (two time Academy Award winner) and Cecilia Peck have filmed a sharp reminder that way back there in 2003 when we first went into Iraq, criticism of President George W. Bush became unacceptable.  A wave of public disapproval washed over the Dixie Chicks when one of them, Natalie Maines, said of President Bush on a London concert stage, “I’m ashamed that the president is from Texas.”  Their #1 single plummeted from the charts overnight; their largely southern, often fundamentalist country constituency abandoned them; country radio stations refused to play their recordings; their dignified rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” in the Super Bowl was quickly forgotten.

            Three years later, with Iraq a humiliating quagmire that defies solution, “Shut Up and Sing” has opened in a vastly different climate.  When Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney appear on screen, each with his own version of the certainty that Saddam Hussein had WMD, the audience at the screening erupted in derisive laughter.  By the end, the audience was cheering.  This documentary is the story of the difficult musical lives of the Chicks between the night of Maines’ London insult and the release of their current hit, “Angry.” 

            During that troubled time, the Chicks experimented with new forms of music that might reach a wider audience than the southern country one that had turned against them.  They faced a daily avalanche of ugly, sometimes threatening, press and mail.  A serious death threat to Natalie Maines brought the FBI into the picture.  Meanwhile they explored new music, surrounded always by a marvelous gaggle of husbands and toddlers.  But this is really the story of three women who found inside themselves qualities they may not even have known they had.

            What is truly astonishing about the knockout punch they sustained is this:  in almost any group under attack, one is sure to defect – or at least to complain.  These three discover the integrity of loyalty, and if any one of them disagrees with Natalie Maines, no one else will ever know it.  As they live with the trouble, Emily Robison and Martie McGuire become equally incensed at the public indictment.  Gradually the three bring their emotions to their new CD which is an announcement of their solidarity and determination.

Three Texas girls were tripped up in mid-success by a negative comment about the president of their country.  Their audiences in the arenas now run to 7000 as opposed to the 15,000 they used to draw.  But they say something good has happened.  They are singing with new inner confidence in their friendship, their families, and their supporters.  They are angry at the power of the radio chains to control what is heard by the public, and they are determined to continue to make a stand for free speech.  This documentary is a fiery contribution to the public debate. 

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