Sita Sings the Blues (2008)
When I put this in my Netflix queue, I had no idea how truly revolutionary it would be. Even as I started to watch it, I didn’t know what was coming but found myself charmed, delighted and emotionally connected to the story and the storyteller. For, you see, both become entwined as Nina Paley tells of her marriage and its failure along with an abbreviated version of the Ramayana. WTF? you say. Yes TF I say, it’s true. And we also get a healthy dose of a wonderful jazz age singer named Annette Hanshaw whose songs are just perfect to help tell the tale.
Paley uses 5 distinct styles of animation plus some amazing music – including modern Indian as well as jazz singer Hanshaw – as she winds her story together with that of Rama and his wife Sita. All the animation is fantastic and clever but my favorite are the parts narrated by Indonesian shadow puppets. The voices behind the puppets are three Indians from various parts of the country who provide the basic details of the story – though they sometimes disagree on and mess up the details of the complicated tale which leads to some comic moments as they correct each other and worry about how it will make people mad.
And then there’s the Intermission! Yes, the film has an intermission and don’t skip through it as it’s hilarious watching the various characters head to the concession stands for popcorn, hot dogs and drinks. You can even use it as an intermission was intended if you need to.
The DVD I bought, as well as the website, has various subtitles available – including LOL – and I suggest that, at least the first time through, people watch the film with them on since the accents can be hard to understand at times if you’re not used to them. There’s also a commentary track that’s interesting to listen to. For further details on the movie, there’s a FAQ section at Paley’s website for the film www.sitasingstheblues.com. There’s also a blog and a wiki.
Apparently when the film was first released, there were problems with how it was viewed as a religious story as well as copyright issues with the Hanshaw songs. The songs stuff has been worked out but some viewers might still object to the way Paley chooses to portray the various people of the story. The various versions of the Ramayana are thousands of years old and though Paley doesn’t tell the whole story, what she does tell is definitely from a feminist slant yet some stuff modern feminists might find hard to swallow. But it is what it is and she felt that animating it was a cathartic experience for her after the break up of her marriage.
So, you want to try it? Well, you can rent it, you can buy a copy and it’s available on the internet. Yep, that’s right. Paley has made it freely available to do anything with except copyright it. I know that you can watch it at the Sitasingstheblues.com site as well as youtube and the IMDB. Once I’d seen it, I had to own a copy and gladly paid for it from the website. It’s amazing. It’s funny. It’s inventive. It’s unique and I hope that people check it out and enjoy it as much as I do each time I watch it.