A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BRIEF NOTE] On Sita Sings the Blues

Matt Thompson, at Savage Minds, reintroduced me to the rather unique and good animated film Sita Sings the Blues. Thompson’s summary of the film as “an incomparably unique animated feature that combines ancient Hindu mythology, a 1920s blues singer, and one artist’s failed marriage to tell the story of a every woman who lets a man walk all over her”.

I prefer to think of Sita Sings the Blues as the product of play, in the sense of being an uninhibited comparison/contrasting of different sorts of narratives in different genres from different time periods, Ramayana with blues music with globalization-era autobiography.

The story unfolds in multiple layers, each taking place at divergent moments in history and represented with its own animated style. We begin in present-day San Francisco, portrayed here in squigglevision, with the couple, Nina and Dave, in domestic bliss. Dave’s sudden departure for a new job in India foreshadows the impending end of their relationship. Paley juxtaposes this with the epic myth of Sita and Rama, presented as gouache paintings come alive. Interrupting or narrating the story is a third form, a trio of shadow puppets commenting on the myth. These characters exist out of time. Finally the signature sequences are done with computer animation as a cartoonish Rama and Sita act out their story with Sita singing the words of Annete Hanshaw’s blues. Although visually set in the myth the audience is experiencing creative expressions from the early twentieth century America and encouraged to note the similarities between the two.

The film has a complicated history. Although released in 2008, issues over copyright for its 1920s songs prevented its release on DVD–as opposed to a Creative Commons production–until recently, while some critics call the narrative a colonial-style appropriation of Hindu narrative. (Me, I think that copyright laws shouldn’t inhibit this sort of creative production, and don’t think that the story dishonours or seizes unfairly upon the narratives of Hindu religions.)

I give it a 9 out of 10. You?


Written by Randy McDonald

April 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm

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