The international press won't get their first look at the documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing until its gala premiere at the Toronto Film Festival tonight. But EW.com got an early look at the sure-to-be-controversial doc in Los Angeles and can attest that the film will continue to bring the (ex?) country trio more plaudits from progressives and further condemnation from conservatives. And if you think singer Natalie Maines had some harsh words for President Bush in public, wait till you hear what she had to say about him behind the scenes.
In one memorable scene, Maines watches news footage of the president being interviewed about the furor that followed the singer's on-stage comment that she was ''ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,'' which resulted in the group being dropped from most radio stations, as well as protests and plummeting sales. ''The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind,'' Bush told Tom Brokaw at the time, adding, ''They shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out. You know, freedom is a two-way street.''
After watching this footage, Maines repeats the president's comment about how the group shouldn't have their ''feelings hurt,'' incredulous, and then says, ''What a dumb f---.'' She then looks into the camera, as if addressing Bush, and reiterates, ''You're a dumb f---.''
We could be wrong, but we have a feeling that in Toronto, at least, they're gonna love it.
The documentary, codirected by Barbara Kopple (who won an Oscar in 1976 for Harlan Country USA) and Cecilia Peck (yes, she's Gregory's daughter), moves back and forth in time between footage surrounding the 2003 controversy and scenes depicting the making of the band's latest album last year and the planning for their 2006 tour. It turns out that, unbeknownst to anyone not tied to the band, cameras were rolling when Maines made her infamous remark on a London stage more than three years ago, presumably for what was then planned merely as DVD bonus footage. We see the band and their manager, Simon Renshaw, gradually becoming aware of the firestorm erupting back in the States. Maines is seen being interviewed by a foreign journalist a few days after the incident, describing her comment as ''a joke... made to get cheers and applause.'' Band members and their manager subsequently banter back and forth about the drafting of the two apologies that were issued on Maines' behalf. When they decide to fight back, they pose nude, with epithets stenciled on their bodies, at an Entertainment Weekly cover shoot where Renshaw and Cindi Berger, the group's principal publicist, argue over whether the provocation is a good idea or a disaster in the making.
Initially, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Seidel seem downcast over their apparently nose-diving popularity, but Maines assures them, ''I think this is better for our career.'' And when whether to stay quiet or get their backs up becomes an issue, the singer jokes, ''Now that we've f---ed ourselves, I think we have a responsibility to continue to f--- ourselves,'' amid gales of laughter. When it comes to country radio, most of whose stations stopped playing the group at least temporarily in 2003, Maines says at the time, ''The people that abandoned us, I'm never gonna talk to again. The people that supported us are gonna get more love than they've ever seen.'' But three years later, she's the one vehemently arguing against their music even being serviced to country stations that are open to playing the trio, when their manager suggests that the label at least be allowed to make a token effort to work it at that format. ''I just feel like, let country music rest,'' Maines says in a group meeting.
Cameras are rolling when the three women and their cowriters are working on the lyrics for the title song of Taking the Long Way, their latest album including the moment of creation of a key line: ''Wouldn't kiss all the asses that they told me to.'' One of the band members proposes adding an addendum, quickly scotched: ''Gave a lot of [oral sex], but wouldn't kiss all the asses!'' ''We did kiss SOME asses,'' another member adds, in full disclosure. Clearly, though, the days of butt-smooching are over for this gleefully contentious group.
The doc includes footage shot up through June of this year capturing the sense of triumph when the album easily hits No. 1, and the letdown when tour sales turn out to be disappointing. Maines says ''Arenas or nothing!'' at one point, and is seen vociferously arguing that they turn down a guarantee from promoters in favor of a bigger percentage of the gross, because she believes the tour will be a sellout a decision ultimately believed to have cost the group millions.
Ultimately, though, the documentary certainly conveys a sense of triumph for the beleaguered band, whose album is one of 2006's most acclaimed. And, upon hitting theaters this fall, if the Weinstein Company's plans hold, it'll certainly continue to make them the poster girls of the HuffPost crowd and the scourge of the Drudge set.