Monday, March 24, 2014

Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues is a 2008 animated film by Nina Paley. It is unorthodox both in its animation and method of distribution. It tells the story of the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu text about a woman's love and loss.

The film uses several types of animation to tell its story, primarily using 2D computer graphics and Flash animation. The first type, used to tell the story of the Ramayana itself, is Flash based animation using heavy textures and vivid colors. The characters are often shown in profile to exaggerate their eyes and show where their attention is being focused.

The second type of animation is a digital mock-up of traditional shadow puppetry, which saw its first wide appearance in The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a German film made in 1926. In the case of Sita, these shadows are the narrators of the Ramayana who often discuss the story's characters which are represented by collage cutouts. The shadow figures used together with the mixed media characters creates a delightful image to watch, often placed in front of a background of rich tapestry.

The third style used in the film happens during the musical sequences! Songs by jazz singer Annette Hanshaw are sung by Sita to express her feelings or despair to the experiences she's having. These sequences are often done in bold vector graphics animation that seems much more digital than the other styles present. The style however allows for close vocal synchronization with the songs being synced.

The final style used in the film is present when the contemporary story is happening alongside the Ramayana. This is the story of filmmaker Nina Paley and how her own life ties in with the text. The style of animation used here is still digital, but hand drawn and with little solidity to the image. It is a more lighthearted counterpart to the other styles present.  

Upon the film's release, it ran into a number of copyright issues surrounding the use of the Annette Hanshaw music. Unable to pay the copyright fees demanded of her, Paley decided to release the work using a Creative Commons license, making the film free to distribute and use in ways desired by the viewer. Despite giving the film away for free, Paley considers it to be a financial success, due to donations given to her by various individuals and organizations, citing that it earned $132,000 from March 2009 to March 2010.

So that's the story of Sita Sings the Blues! I highly recommend taking the time to watch this entertaining and visually-exciting film. In fact, because of its distribution method, you can watch it in its entirety right here:

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