11.14.2008

Sita Sings the Blues

In moving to San Fran I wanted to be sure I got out and about as much as possible ... particularly to enjoy art/cultural events—even if that meant doing things by myself—which it certainly does when you only know a couple of people!

So when I found out that the San Francisco International Animation Festival was going to be happening, I checked it out and purchased tickets for a couple of the showings. Last Thursday was the opening night and the feature was a film entitled Sita Sings the Blues. I went in not knowing much about the film or it's director (and writer, designer, producer, animator), Nina Paley, aside from what I read on the website. I was completely blown away.

In this 82-minute feature, Paley employs the use of 4 main styles of animation and at least as many types of narrative, including song, to tell the story of an ancient Sanskrit epic Ramayana, creating a textured, visual feast. She also manages to tell us a true story of her own heartbreak that relates the ancient tale to modern times.

There are innumerable elements to this piece. Paley uses everything from montage to digital vector art to "cliche" cartoon elements (sing-a-long and graphic expressions such as "BANG!") to hand-painted art in order to illustrate the story and reference her various sources of inspiration. You can see the genie of Disney's Aladdin in the digital rendering of Rāma and Betty Boop in Sita. Her hand-painted work clearly draws from Indian folk art. All of this combines to keep the audience enthralled and engaged not just in the story but in the art itself.

Perhaps my favorite element of the whole piece is the incorporation of Annette Hanshaw's songs from the 20's. Absolutely genius. It's just wild to see how Paley is able to connect all of these pieces to create a cohesive piece. Ancient Sanskrit epic, jazz from the 20's and a story of divorce in the 21st century.

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