Aesop’s moral might be: when you dump an artist, you must be prepared for the most extraordinary of responses.
‘Extraordinary’ is just the word for Nina Paley’s 82-min. animated tour-de-force, Sita Sings the Blues, showing now at the Green Mountain Film Festival. I haven’t raved like this about a film (ranted, tried to convert friends and family and coworkers…) since last fall, upon seeing Let The Right One In – coincidentally, another of this year’s Festival offerings. Before that? I don’t remember.
The single fact that Paley’s work is autobiographical goes a long way to fast-track it to the top of the genre, and advance this remarkable vision far beyond most definitions of an ‘animated feature’. More than a breakup catharsis (surely must have been that too, though) Sita speaks to the greater arc of human relations, survival, and self-realization – in the most humorous ways imaginable.
The film employs the full range of artistic devices and expression. An epic Indian text (the Ramayana) gives us the story of Rama, an Indian Prince, and Sita, his virtuous, suffering, and wrongly accused wife. This is interwoven seamlessly with Paley’s own incredible experience of getting dumped (by e-mail!), while she’s on a business trip in New York and her husband is in India.
Three congenial Indonesian shadow puppets offer contradictory interjections in a sort of ‘chorus’ role, to advance (and, sometimes hilariously confuse) the narrative.
The story is visually realized through a combination of paper collages and cutouts, hand-painted watercolor backdrops, and lush, colorful computer-generated 2D animation techniques that appear to exist in their own unique universe of time/space relationships. There is art of untold riches to be found in breaking the rules, and Sita is nothing if not artful.
And finally, now that your imagination is nearly saturated, I’ll mention that the whole story is punctuated by Sita’s clever music/dance interludes, overlayed by the superb singing of ’20s-era diva Annette Hanshaw. It’s eerie how the well-worn lyrics to standards like “Mean to Me”, “Moanin’ Low” and “Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door” take on new life in this setting, it’s as though they’ve been waiting the better part of a century for this very chance to come together in a single voice and illustrate the story of Nina, Sita, and lovers everywhere. Why Annette Hanshaw? The filmmaker can explain that one.
Sita is joyous. It’s naughty, irreverent, exuberantly inventive, and, deeply touching.
When you see Sita, you will likely find it so captivating you will want to own it. To watch it over and over again yourself, and share the special experience with others. To which Paley says, ‘no problem’! You can buy a copy (when the film becomes available commercially, possibly next month…or not…) but you can also download, share and copy the film absolutely free under the creative commons provision.
And then of course there’s the other option: you could make your own version of the film. If you’re the creative-minded type you may want to seriously consider going to the website’s store and buying Nina Paley’s 320G hard drive, signed by the artist (how do you sign a hard drive? :) and jam-packed with all of the original, high-resolution digital files that were used to make the movie. Think of the possibilities there!
How fitting that Sita is so accessible, for a film about love, loss, (empowerment!) and other such commonly shared human experiences.
Sita Sings the Blues has two more screenings at the Festival; Sat. the 28th at 6:30am and Sun. the 29th at 11:30am. With greatest thanks to Ms. Paley for the gift of this exceptional film, her genorosity in sharing this personal experience in such an inspired creative expression, and – for the laughs! Preview Sita here on YouTube.