Shut Up & Sing (2006)

(On DVD, December 2007) Three years after the storm of controversy that was heaped on an all-girl country band that dared joke about president Bush, this documentary chronicles both the controversy and the follow-up as the Dixie Chicks suffers from the fallout, refuses to “make nice” and rebuilds a career after a highly visible boycott. It feels like a triumph: not only have events (and the rest of the population) caught up with their opinions in the three intervening years, but they emerge from the ordeal with a brand-new audience and a renewed fire for their music. As a band documentary, it’s fascinating, as the controversy touches upon every aspect of modern showbiz, from publicity to marketing strategy to show ticket-selling. As a (mercifully brief) musical, it will have even non-country fans humming along. But it’s as a political documentary that Shut Up & Sing really shines, as it explains and dissects the ways the musical group was attacked by right-wing interests, and give enough rope to the protesters to make them look like complete idiots. (The tag-line of the film, “freedom of speech is fine as long as you don’t do it in public”, is adapted from a quote from a protester.) Though a documentary favourable to the group, it doesn’t make them saints: behind doors, they struggle visibly with the controversy, toy with how to appease the crowd, call psychics for reassurance and are often associated with less-appealing fans. But they endure, and what’s missing from the Blockbuster-branded DVD release may just be an epilogue about the critical and commercial success of their more accessible comeback album, and their newfound fandom far outside country music.

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