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Monday, 30 July 2007

Shut Up and Sing

In 2003, just as the first bombs were about to hit Baghdad, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, announced to a London audience that she was ashamed that President Bush came from Texas. Whoops, cheers and applause. But Maines’ joking protest sparked outrage across America. Radio stations stopped playing the Chicks’ music, fans trashed their CDs and Maines herself received death threats. So much for freedom of speech.

This excellent documentary by Barbara Kopple (who gave us the brilliant Woody Allen music doco Wild Man Blues) charts the three year journey of the Chicks. We see the three spunky gals go from being chart-topping Country Western superstars, to reviled pariahs. Finally, there’s their reinvention as tortured artists who write their own heartfelt songs that transcend genre boundaries.

The beauty of this film lies in its portrait of a trio of sexy, talented, outspoken women who refuse to be silenced. They stand united and make their music – all the while managing their multi-million dollar ‘brand’, their marriages and their young children – seven between them. Yes, there’s swagger and bravado here – particularly from the fabulously charismatic Maines. But mostly, its just ego-free honesty and true courage. Good old-fashioned American values.

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Thursday, 26 July 2007

I Have Never Forgotten You

For decades Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal was a regular figure on the world stage, a constant reminder of the need to bring war criminals to justice. A one-time architect who was sent to the Nazi concentration camps and lost his entire family bar his wife there, he spent the rest of his life working from a small office in Vienna collecting information on war criminal sightings and publicising the need to keep vigilant.

This thorough biography benefits enormously from the many televised interviews Wiesenthal gave in the latter part of his life, and slightly less enormously from a limp
narration by Nicole Kidman. For a documentary made by the Simon Wiesenthal Center this is refreshingly honest about its subject, especially regarding the various controversies that surrounded Wiesenthal’s work.

His refusal to condemn Austrian leader Kurt Waldheim and his mistakes regarding the death of Josef Mengele may have damaged his credibility in some eyes, but their inclusion here only strengthens this portrait of a engaging man driven by a desire for justice it’s hard not to admire. Plus conspiracy buffs should enjoy how almost every Nazi Wiesenthal identified who managed to escape confinement died very, very soon afterwards of a heart attack.

Anthony Morris