It was early days in the second Iraq war and – strange to think it now – Bush was riding high in popularity, his country behind him. Maines’ off-the-cuff comments, reported next day by The Guardian and immediately picked up Stateside, rocked the country music fanbase and shocked the conservative heart of America.
Shut Up and Sing charts the band’s battle to brave out the storm, finally emerging stronger, with a bestselling new album and - by then - with America on their side. As an insider's view of a successful band in freefall, it’s fascinating. But the real coup is how the band members coped with the personal and professional pressures they unwittingly brought down on themselves.
Whether you’ve heard of the Dixie Chicks – or their music – is immaterial. The film’s winning slant is the personal repercussions of free speech. Moving between the turbulent events of 2003 and the band’s creation of a new album and tour in 2005, the movie weaves in footage of the band’s back-story, family lives and friendship with each other.
Shut Up and Sing succeeds most in letting the Chicks, their detractors and promoters speak for themselves, using news and TV footage, even extracts from Senate committee hearings. You soon see how the gabby little dynamo Natalie Maines could get herself into trouble. Most affecting, though, is the genuine regard the other girls have for her.
Sagging a little in its focus on family, it’s still a perky, quirky movie – and the non-country-sounding songs-in-the-making are infectious. In 2003, the Chicks had clearly intended to make a different film – a documentary about themselves and their music. Shut Up and Sing is certainly that.
But this isn’t a fan’s film or a music movie – it’s a rare and revealing insight into the fragility of free speech in America.