Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing
The wonderful thing about documentaries is that they don't have to wrap themselves in the pretense of being "fair," as the major news outlets do. There is a blatant point-of-view being espoused about actual events and actual people. It's useless to accuse director Barbara Kopple of preaching to the choir, because all that means is that she knows her audience.
It would be interesting to see what the original concept for this piece was, as it appears that Kopple's cameras were there right from the beginning, following the Chicks on the European leg of their 2003 tour. There were cameras to capture lead singer Natalie Maines' famous comment, they were there throughout the rest of the tour, and they were there during the cathartic process of creating the follow-up album. The film follows the group through three years, until they wind up right back where they started, on a London stage, the same women they always were, if a bit more weathered.
I went into the film feeling that Natalie Maines was a strong personality, not for uttering the words she did, but for standing by the meaning of the words and at every turn defending her right to free speech. But I was also impressed by the quiet resolve of fellow bandmembers Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. Though I got the impression that they never would have done what Natalie did, they stood by her and her beliefs, consistently presenting a unified front. Moreover, it appears they never felt pressured to completely fall in line with Natalie's views as the basis of their defense of Natalie. They maintained the strength and the freedom to disagree with Natalie in private meetings and were always involved, as equal partners, throughout the discussions on how to move forward.
There was the requisite amount of caustic witticisms from our "heroes" and the same amount of mis-spelled signs and ignorant remarks ("I'm all for Free Speech, but they shouldn't do it on foreign soil, and they shouldn't do it in public!") from their opposition. Also, the number of shots of their children could be seen as manipulative, but again, Kopple knows her audience. What the shots of the babies (and of the Chicks' husbands) does serve to do is to emphasize that these are not people out there alone. What they do affects the lives of dozens of people, some of them very deeply, as when they go ahead with a Dallas concert with a threat to their lives hanging over their head. It also feeds into the art they produce as they write and perform their next album, hitting back at their critics, while contemplating the fragility of their position and wondering if the peak hasn't already passed them by.
Overall, I liked the film. Of course, these days, when I get out to watch a film, it will be one that I'm inclined to like in the first place. But in any case, this didn't disappoint, and I'm proud to have a theater like the Little Theater in town to support this type of fare, along with the Dryden Theatre.