I think I'm late to the Nina Paley party, but I'm crashing it anyway. Just watched Sita Sings the Blues after it came up in a dinner convo with old friends and new about recent break-ups. Par for the course topics: how to channel something bad into something good, how to make sense of the non-sensical, and how to cope with the challenges of dating creatives. One of the hosts of the evening (there are three inhabitants of The Clown House) mentioned an ex who made a brilliant film about the topic at hand. It has a space phone app that he showed us, and the graphics were compelling enough to watch it as soon as I got home.
You should watch it too.
There are better ways to watch it, I just needed to see it right away. Who can resist a movie with the subtitle “The Greatest Breakup Story Ever Told”?! Now, just to be clear, this story doesn't speak to my recent experience, but it's still worth sharing here.
Top 3 reasons to watch, share and support Sita Sings the Blues, from someone who isn't really a film critic, she just likes what she likes:
#1 – The animation and the music. I'm lumping them together because they play off one another throughout the film in the same way. Nina juxtaposes iconic Hindu art with a more modern illustrative style, that still manages to reference animation of the past. Her storytelling makes it pretty seamless. The narration (totally unscripted) does most of the heavy lifting though, and even her use of narrators is a nod to tradition. The music is used the same way. Sita is voiced by Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer of the 1920s and 30s who I have many a tune from in my own music library. It all works – the sculpting of the love story with the lyrics of those old love songs is brilliant.
#2 – I'm the number one fan of taking religion, especially the ones that seep their way into cultural identity, and making it your own. It's how I live as a Buddhist. It's the only way I'd ever recommend being religious. It appears that Nina Paley ran into some trouble with this film and bummed some people out with her take on the Ramayana. I get the critiques, I truly do. I've read my Edward Said, but I think it's unfair to assume that there aren't a ton of people who find their spiritual path by taking in texts like the Ramayana, and processing them through their own filter of culture and memory. I do get completely weirded out by people who identify as fill-in-the-blank-Eastern-religion that they have little or no cultural connection to, but Nina Paley was wise here – she let the telling of the tale (a tale that has been retold about a thousand times in some of the most grossly commercial ways ever, and gets re-imagined all the time) be told from three very unique perspectives who have very tangible connections to the culture it came from. I totally respect that.