Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Sita Sings The Blues

Sita Sings The Blues. Written & Directed by Nina Paley.

Preconceptions: Recently, I moved out of the untamed wilds of Canada and while the adjustment has been difficult (not stalking small woodland animals and then devouring them still bloody and twitching, not praising the gods for rain) one of the greatest benefits of moving into civilization is Netflix. Oh I'm sure there are a thousand political reasons not to like them, but as a simple minded Canadian I wouldn't understand them anyways. While cackling with glee and filling the queue with vampire movies and all kinds of artsy foreign nonsense (something to look forward to in the upcoming weeks), I came across Sita Sings the Blues. The description went a little something like this (boring bits excised): "India's ancient epic Ramayana gets a fresh, funny makeover ...With song and humor, director Nina Paley juxtaposes the split between Rama and Sita with her own divorce to tell "the greatest break-up story ever told." Pretty neat, huh?

General Review: It's been so damned long since I watched anything I liked I was beginning to wonder if I'd become some sort of cynical husk unable to enjoy movies. As it turns out, there is at least a tiny bit of moisture in my husk. Sita Sings the Blues was funny, pretty and something I hadn't seen before. My gripes with it were minor and it was fun to watch. What's particularly neat about this movie is that you can watch or download it online here (http://www.sitasingstheblues.com). So I didn't actually need to leave my homeland to see it via Netflix, but give me a break, I couldn't possibly have heard about it in my hut.

Watchers beware, this is a musical (I love musicals, but I know there are people out there who inexplicably don't agree with me). There are regular breaks where Sita sings in the sexy jazz voice of Annette Hanshaw (y'know, the blues, like in the title). I dug that most of the musical numbers were done in this one voice and style, but it isn't the multi-genre, choral spectacular that is often in musicals (so some people might find the numbers get repetitive towards the end). For those of you who haven't taken leave of your senses and agree with me, you're in for a treat, the musical numbers are a visual and auditory treat.

As you may have noticed, this is a fairly picture heavy review. The reason (besides me not being willing to give up the weak gag cover bit)? The interesting and varied animation and look of the flick. So lets talk about the animation, Sita Sings the Blues was done in a number of styles that integrated into the story well (so many styles, in fact, that I don't have room for examples of them all) . In fact, they kept the switch between the narrators, musical numbers, main story and frame story from being confusing. The numerous layers of story could easily have been muddled but between good writing and animation choices, they weren't. The changing styles and cool design elements kept the simplicity of the actual animation from getting stale (nearly all of the animation was done by Paley). One of the few gripes I was talking about earlier does, unfortunately, come from some of the animation choices. Some of the scenes could have been tighter and cut shorter. When there was only orchestral accompaniment and little action taking place I sometimes wondered what I was supposed to be paying attention to.

The layer of the movie I enjoyed most was the three narrators who have an unscripted discussion about what they remember about the Ramayana story and their thoughts about it. This is where the movie is at its funniest both in animation and dialogue. One of my other few complaints about the movie is the story of the writer/director interspersed in the main action. I could see the relation to the main plot, but while the rest of the film felt natural and flowing (Girl on Book Action Incoherently Raves: "Sita Sings the Blues is like a river or a menstruation or something") these sections were jarring and unnecessary (the animation was still cool, though). I wouldn't mind seeing another movie about Nina Paley's life and break up, it wasn't that the story wasn't interesting on its own, it just didn't fit smoothly into the rest of the narrative.

Sita Sings the Blues is well worth checking out and it's a hell of a lot easier to do so, with it being online. I usually try not to be much of a shill (well not without being paid anyways) but this whole thing is fan funded, so if you dig it like I did, grab a t-shirt or throw a couple of bucks Nina Paley's way (end shill).

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