The Dixie Chicks are the subject of an excellent well-crafted new documentary by Barbara Kopple. Shut Up and Sing. The title comes from one of the country group’s ex fans who would feel perfectly content if everything that is disturbing to her was censored and muzzled. Why are artists assumed to be exempt from having opinions about political causes and world matters? Why are they just supposed to entertain? This contempt for the artist as the public's stooge recalls some of the films of Ingmar Bergman about the theme of the artist as outsider such as the most vivid example The Magician (1958, Sweden).
The Dixie Chicks gained infamous popularity after a statement made at a concert in London in 2003 that they were ashamed that George Bush Jr comes from Texas. The comment was picked up by the Guardian in London and syndicated making its way back to the USA. A personal opinion about the governor from the state of Texas, who many still refer our controversial often foot in mouth high commander as, is all lead singer Natalie Maines expressed, but it’s like the game of gossip when someone whispers a simple statement into someone’s ears and by the time it gets around the circle it’s completely distorted. After the comment the group got death threats and were declared unpatriotic, radio stations wouldn’t play their music by listener request and their concerts and record sales sagged. It smacks of the way Jane Fonda’s visit to North Vietnam was used in a smear campaign to make her an enemy of the state. The most revealing comment made by Martie Maguire in the documentary is that the hidden reason they seem targeted is because they are supposedly a nice group of refined women that represent the myth of purity in America. And it seems like the unpopular war in Iraq needs a scapegoat just like the Vietnam War to stop the dissent. What better target than women. It also seems true that war is ultimately about a deep down hatred of women, as bearers of life on this planet. So to this end Kopple gives ample room to the fact that these women are mothers with children and husbands who support their work with intimate scenes of the women and their loved ones. These are some of the best parts of the film, especially as one finds it hard to fathom death threats from people who don’t even know them and what was actually said.
The film principally shows the interactions between the PR and record label people who handle the Dixie Chicks, personal comments from Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire and about what happened to them since the London concert, and the reactions good and bad to their work. It is an impassioned study of a group who speaks their mind spearheaded by a frivolous comment on a night in a country where the anti war sentiment is strong especially the unpopularity of Bush’s ally Tony Blair. To what extent are artists allowed freedom of speech, that is the question and why the immature belief that artists are wind up talking dolls in service to the people. The extent to which corporate radio yanked the music off the airwaves shows a very sad and disturbing state affairs about basic civil liberties in our country. Shut Up and Sing shows that it is all about freedom of speech and expression and how we had better not forget it. Freedom of speech, speaking out and having a voice. Yeah! On to the Grammies Dixie Chicks. You go girls!
Review Broadcast For Movie Magazine International, San Francisco. December 29th 2006 ©Moira Sullivan
This is not a film review, no siree bob, its about a theater production written by Marga Gomez. But she has starred in several indie films including, THE D WORD, a spoof on THE L WORD, and so the work of this multi-talented artist is here for you all to appreciate.Marga Gomez is a household word in San Francisco, and she is back in town, her "creative home" as she puts it. (And MY "mythical home", proclaims CinéFemme!). I managed to catch this über talented performer in Stockholm years ago in a museum built to house the enormous shipwrecked Vasa, which sunk on its maiden voyage in the 16th century. It escapes me what Gomez was up to in Stockholm that year, but the spunk and fire that fuels her performance about oh , 20 years later was in crystalline form. She has only gotten better and better and better, every time I see her.
Just know that in an oppressive political period there are a lot of tight asses. I guess you can say this is the theme of this new piece. There has been an outgrowth of Laura Bush jokes by female comics from Margaret Cho to Sandra Bernhard to Gomez that invite us to explore how Hubby Bush can't possibly be satisfying her and women can do it better. Here, that Condoleezza Rice and the first lady librarian could be a better and kinkier match. So too, Al Gore could have done infinite wonders for the White House, if he hadn't been such a tight ass. Gomez makes that clear.
The story of The Twelve Days of Cochina begins with the upbringing of a young Latino American girl who learns that everything she puts into her mouth is dirty, making no exceptions for consensual sex as she grows older. Lesbian bed death aside, on Xmas eve she learns that her lover has dumped her for someone else. Perhaps that is why they haven't had sex for a long time and her girlfriend is always at work. Cochina goes on a war path which includes a visit to Walgreen's to become the yuletide "discrepancy bitch". She knows the parameters of this archetype having suffered lines of Xmas shoppers in order to overindulge her waylaid exlover. But she learns from the ghost of Xmas past, her auntie, (Theatre Rhinoceros could only afford one Xmas ghost being low budget , Gomez reveals) that she should live more and have more sex. It may seem a little corny but there is some truth to the missing life force of a loveless life. Or a sexless love life.
As time goes on I swear I am listening to Guy Debord's Situationist Manifesto that digs at the commodity tradeoff involved in sexual repression. Even some of his offspring who "demand new sex organs" because the one's we have don't function very well. Maybe that is why there is a sex toy market......or maybe even that is why the Austrian psychiatrist Willhem Reich really went to prison.
One things is for sure, Napoleon Hill seems to be right about handshakes (Think and Grow Rich, 1937). He says they reveal the presence or absence of a vital sexuality and even the potential for success. Most folks aren't really "successful" till they are 50 he proclaimed, and all goes "mano et mano" with mind-body-soul alignment. When will the conservatives ever learn? George never has, and I don't think Laura ever will either. With or without Rice.
Just know that Gomez' timing is sublime all the way through the one hour and forty five minute one woman act. There is subtlety and wild antics and the comedian is a veteran in knowing when to speed up, slow down and stop for parking. Some of the musical numbers require a stronger voice, but Gomez makes no pretense she is a vocalist or musician and doesn't let it rip like Sandra Bernhard. (There is only one lesbian standup world class vocalist I know that could pull it off with the right musicians) You can't have everything not even for Xmas. Like Bernhard, Gomez has a taste for stacking up the cultural icons that belong under the Xmas tree, when you're not having sex and don't have someone who breathlessly rushes at the same speed to snuggle under the mistletoe for a kiss.
I wish I could do justice to the elastic body of Marga Gomez: Suffice it to say she is in great shape and pulls off physical elocution like a gyroscope at a fun house. If you are a suspicious spectator determined to make her work for a laugh you will find yourself in agreement with the lofty wit of Gomez in roughly the first quarter. Its impossible not to imbibe in her energy and wherever you are on the relationship spectrum there is something for all and for all a good night.
Today would have been the last day of the show, extended through New Year's Eve at Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco.