EYE CANDY MOVIE OF THE MONTH: Sita Sings The Blues (2008)

Sita Sings The Blues

has been popping up everywhere these days. I first heard about the film through the JBFC when I found out we would be screening it next week. I saw the picture in our brochure, read the glowing praise, and thought that Sita Sings The Blues sounded like it could be interesting. Then I came across the blog entry Roger Ebert devoted to Sita. By this point I was already dying to see it, and the idea of waiting even another week seemed like too long. Then, low and Behold, Rope of Silicon alerted its readers that Sita was now available to watch in full through WNET's website. With a lovely Sunday afternoon free, awaiting the biggest snow storm of the season, it seemed like there was no better time than the present to give the movie a whirl. I imagined that I would like the film, but I never thought I would love it as much as I do. Sita is a completely original compilation of various animation techniques, an Indian folktale, and 1920's jazz music. And it's amazing.

Writer, Director, Animator and everything else-er
Nina Paley found her inspiration for Sita in the most dire of circumstances. A few years ago, her husband took a "temporary" job in India leaving Nina behind, and eventually terminating their marriage while still abroad. Nina's existence became that of a refugee, couch hopping between friend's apartments and mourning the loss of her man. This story ends up being woven into the film, and while it may seem a little out of place at first, it's a great personal tie in to the fable from Nina's perspective, and humorous in a kind of terribly sad way. But somehow out of all this, came something wonderful. During her brief visit to India, Nina learned the story of Sita and Rama, a couple who began very much in love and devoted to each other, but who ultimately broke apart due to the Rama's pride, ignorance and stupidity. Who knew how close to home the story would ultimately hit.

The short synopsis is as follows: Sita Sings The Blues follows 3 story lines. First, Sita is a goddess who finds herself separated from her beloved husband and lord Rama. Second, Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India and dumps her via email (sound familiar?). Third, 3 hilarious shadow puppets narrate the ancient tragedy and modern humor of the original Indian folktale, Ramayana. All of this is set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. The 3 interwoven tales rightfully earn the tag line of "the Greatest Break-up Story Ever Told."

What makes the film unique even more than the just the blending of 3 story lines with the ballads of little known jazz singer Hanshaw, is the blending of 3 different types of animation. You will see traditional hand drawn 2D animation, along with cut outs, collages, and even some tapestry inspired hand painted backgrounds. It could have easily all bled together in a mish mosh, overwhelming and incoherent, but somehow the 3 pieces work together, complimenting each other and making the whole film feel precious and intimate. This is clearly a painstaking labor of love, and worth every minute. It couldn't have been easy for Paley to revisit her husband's brutal departure over and over again, but then again, it was likely a catharisis. When the film was finished, it must have felt like she finally got that monkey off her back. You go girl! The rich colors that envelop Indian culture run rampant in Sita. They are dazzling, and one of the first things that drew me to the film. From the turquoise of Rama to the hot pink lotus blossoms that seem to pop up everywhere (one scene in particular, and you'll know what I mean when you see it), color was a massively addressed aspect of Sita, and I commend Paley for her keen color eye. Her comics background no doubt helped inform choices for character designs. Rama's look likely took a few ques from the Genie in Disney's Aladdin, while Sita is a ethnic take on the voluptuously iconic Betty Boop. Each character comes complete with big wide eyes and simple "cute" expressions, characteristics hailing from the anime world. In fact one of the first things this reminded me of was a show I'm 
quickly becoming addicted to called Pucca. Pucca is a simple, but vibrantly colorful animated show, following it's title character Pucca, a noodle delivery girl, who's madly in love with Garu, a ninja boy who's just not that into her. Most eps revolve around Pucca desperately trying to smooch Garu, and his increasingly odd travels to escape her clawing attention. It's too adorable for words as you can see on the left, and it very much resembles Sita, in it's alarmingly cute character drawings. "Alarmingly cute" accounts for just one third of the film though. Wobbly line drawings help represent Nina's marriage falling apart, while very simple paper cut outs are used for the three ridiculously funny shadow puppets who teach us about Sita and Rama (anyone else think of the muses from Hercules when they saw that? Just me... ok).

By the time I finished Sita, I was racking my brain trying to come up with reasons why the film wasn't bigger, why more people didn't know about it. That's when I came across Margy Rochlin's NYTimes article explaining that the film was being held back on account of violating copyright law. The lovely Hanshaw songs are owned by a variety of individuals that charge thousands of dollars for their use, making Nina's inclusion of them in the film illegal... that's a bitch considering they practically are the film and non-replaceable. But Paley charges on, making the film available
with a "creative commons attribution-share alike license" (what a mouthful). I don't know what this ultimately means for the film, but for now it doesn't matter because as I said at the beginning, you can currently watch the movie for free online here at WNET! You can also do as I plan to, and order the DVD direct from Paley starting sometime in April (hopefully). That's right, I liked it that much. So find 81 minutes somewhere in your busy schedules and watch March's Eye Candy Movie of the Month, Sita Sings The Blues. By the end you may be smiling from ear to ear just like Ebert!

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