By Dóra Bartal
As an artist you connect with a large number of people, it is inevitable that you express your personal view about the word and the things that surround you. The responsibility is there since the public is watching and it is influenced by the people in the spotlight. But usually a strong opinion is not expected from country musicians and as a matter of fact from women either.
Barbara Kopple, one of the most important American documentary filmmaker tells the story of the country band, Dixie Chicks, following their career after an anti-Bush statement. During the time of the invasion of Iraq the lead singer, Natalie Maines at a concert told the audience that the she is ‘ashamed of President Bush’, from that point the most popular band became the most hated one. Their Republican, war supporter audience was alienated, declared that they an-American traitors. The firmer fans reacted the stupidest way possible: burnt CDs, boycotted their music and threatened their lives. It seems the freedom of speech is okay if someone says what the people want to hear, otherwise entertainers don’t have the right to comment on social or political issues.
Country music as a traditional American institution is not necessarily known for its innovative quality, but mostly associated with formulaic music and themes, which gives a great comfort but doesn’t challenge the listeners much. To sing a patriotic song is easy, but the group members call attention to that patriotism has no meaning if you don’t believe in the values that it is associated with. But sometimes it is possible to express yourself even when you have a limitations and Dixie Chicks attempts to do reinvent themselves in a the country music frame. The form of the film itself is nothing unconventional either, but it is able to convey its message very effectively and works well as a music documentary.
While the members record their comeback album their personal life is revealed. They went through a lot of difficulties career wise but shared happy moments like birth of children which weren’t overshadowed by this massive anger towards them. The camera catches scenes of family life which could easily pass as home made videos, and the director skillfully in portraits each of the band members and their relationship. Even though the protagonist is clearly the loudest one, Natalie Maines, who can even crack a joke when her life is in danger – she says that guy who threatens to kill them is a cute – it is clear that their loyalty never breaks, they keep supporting each other even when thing go wrong.
At first it seems that Shut Up&Sing is light in its topic however it discovers a lot about how things work in the entertainment industry and makes you think about the roles of artist in public issues.