Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues

I am going to attempt to talk about Sita Sings the Blues without reference to the way it was made, the way it was distributed, or the many interesting questions it raises about Copyright and Fair Use. Those are all valid topics of discussion, but I feel they've been amply covered elsewhere. Instead, I shall be focusing solely on the movie itself.

...this is a fantastic movie. It retells the Ramayana, a story from India's myth/history, and it does it in several different ways at once. The characters all have six or seven different appearances, so that the viewer quickly learns what the core elements are. Sita could look like this or like that, and the story could go in these directions, but she's always Sita. As if to back up the idea of a story being told in different ways, we occasionally see classical shadow puppets acting out a conversation by modern residents of India, telling the story, getting confused, and disagreeing with each other on the order of events.

One of the threads is a very cartoony (and adorable!) Sita singing the blues songs of Anette Hanshaw. It's not even that much of a stretch, since Sita's man Done Her Wrong, which of course is one of the main themes of the blues. I like that section a lot, not just because Annette Hanshaw turns out to be terrific, but because most of the movie is a mash-up of different versions of the Ramayana, and the addition of something from the twentieth century shows that the basic themes are, in fact, universal. You can add blues to the pot with no problem at all. That also applies to the Modern Day section, which is about Nina Paley (the filmmaker) and the end of a relationship.

Sita Sings the Blues takes a classic story and retells it in a thoroughly modern way. It shows how the story is applicable and meaningful for people living today, and it does it all exceedingly entertainingly. It's beautiful and a lot of fun.

(And, yes, it was made all by Nina Paley on Nina Paley's home computer, and it's got a groundbreaking distribution model and the use of Annette Hanshaw songs presents interesting questions about copyright and Fair Use. There's more information on the FAQ. Happy now?)

No comments: