Thursday, February 22, 2007

Shut Up And Sing

I can name a lot of reasons why every Dixie Chicks fan should make a point of seeing Shut Up And Sing, the exceptional documentary by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple and Cecelia Peck that was released on DVD this week. In fact, I can name a lot of reasons why every American should see this film, whatever their political persuasion, because of the questions it asks about what freedom of speech really means in this country, and how people should conduct themselves when simply standing by a sincerely-held belief threatens to destroy everything they've ever worked for, the lives they've constructed with and for their loved ones, and in fact their very perceptions of themselves. And I can't recall an instance in which public figures have given more complete and unfettered access to a filmmaker than the Chicks did here. Seemingly nothing, no matter how intimate or sensitive or potentially unflattering, was off limits. The result is a shockingly candid look behind the scenes of one of the most absurd -- and, when the protests and boycotts become credible death threats, disturbing -- public episodes in recent memory.

But this is a music blog. So here some of the reasons why anyone interested in music should see this movie:

> The fascinating insights that it provides into the machinations of mounting, promoting and pulling off a big arena tour.

> Chicks manager Simon Renshaw, a bemused Brit caught in a uniquely American shit-storm, who supports, consoles, cheerleads, strategizes, berates, cajoles, testifies (before a Senate committee), mollifies and charms his way from one crisis to the next. Has any manager of a band, even a multi-platinum superstar act, ever had to work his ass off like this guy did?

> The in-studio conversation that Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire have with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith about how band members share writing credit, and the resentment and tensions those issues can create.

> The scene in which the Chicks play demos of their new songs for uber-producer Rick Rubin (sitting before them, in all his sublime weirdness, like an emperor perched on his throne). Rubin provides specific, on-the-spot feedback but then never appears in any of the numerous segments of the Chicks recording the Taking The Long Way album in the studio. So, other than bringing certain collaborators, musicians and sound engineers into the sessions, just what did Rubin's "production" of that record entail?

> Finally, quite a few great performances by the Chicks, on the plagued 2003 tour, on British TV, in the studio and in rehearsals for their tour last year. And a surprising (and amazingly unreported) ending -- I won't give it away -- when they returned to "the scene of the crime," the stage of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, last spring.

Just fascinating, even inspiring, stuff all around. In short, Netflix that baby, and pronto.

MP3: Dixie Chicks - "Everybody Knows" from Taking The Long Way

VIDEO: Shut Up And Sing trailer: