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Movie review: 'Shut Up & Sing'

Mario Tarradell
The Dallas Morning News

It's 2003 and the Dixie Chicks are on the sold-out United States leg of the "Top of the World Tour." It's been a few months since lead singer Natalie Maines made her infamous anti-Bush remark in London.

Backstage at one of the trek's stops, the authorities walk into the trio's dressing room to alert them of a death threat made against Maines. The threat claims that at Dallas' American Airlines Center, from a specific seat in the arena, she will be shot. The FBI has come up with a photograph of the man who bought the ticket for the seat in question.

Maines, ever flip and feisty, looks at the picture and exclaims, "He's kind of cute." Nervous laughter fills the room. "No seriously, he's a good-looking guy."

Then we get a closer glimpse of Maines' face. The grin disappears; the eyes lower. The joke's over, she must be thinking. Now my life is in danger.

That's one of the most powerful scenes in "Shut Up & Sing," directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck's fascinating documentary on how Maines' tossed-off remark to a London audience spelled career suicide for the biggest-selling female group ever.

"Shut Up & Sing" also takes us back to Shepherds Bush Empire, the venue where during a packed show Maines uttered, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." In fact, by the end of the film the Chicks return to Shepherds Bush Empire, and just for fun she reiterates her prophetic phrase.

Yet what's most compelling about the movie is how the filmmakers dig as deep as they possibly can to reveal the off-the-spotlights lives of Maines and fellow Chicks Emily Robison and Martie Maguire.

We meet the husbands, actor Adrian Pasdar; Texas country singer-songwriter Charlie Robison; and Irish teacher and actor Gareth Maguire. We follow Robison as she gives birth to twins. We see them as nurturing mothers. We hang out with the Robisons on the family ranch just outside of San Antonio. We get to know the women, not the mega-selling group.

And for the music geeks, there's plenty of cool footage of the Chicks recording "Taking the Long Way" in Los Angeles, including some with usually private producer Rick Rubin. At one point while in the studio, Dan Wilson, who co-wrote six of the "Long Way" tracks including the controversial single "Not Ready to Make Nice," tells the song's story. He brought an idea to the Chicks about penning a tune dealing with forgiveness. They all nixed it, and instead wrote a charged manifesto with the lyrics, "I made my bed, and I sleep like a baby."

Maines' slumber may not always be so restful, but she's at peace. During one of many meetings with management discussing country radio, spin control and making nice-nice as "Taking the Long Way" gets ready for release, Maines stands her ground. She, along with Robison and Maguire, refuses to pander. They prefer to frolic in their own pool, even if the masses won't splash in.

That fortitude keeps the Dixie Chicks grounded personally and professionally. They have the fighting spirit, and there's nothing more American that that.

___

SHUT UP & SING

Grade: B-plus

Starring: Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Simon Renshaw and Rick Rubin. Directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck. R (language). 93 min.

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