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Tue April 7, 2009
Sita Sings the Blues
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"The blues was like that problem child that you may have had in the family. You was a little bit ashamed to let anybody see him, but you loved him. You just didn't know how other people would take it." BB King
The fine recent animations such as Persepolis and Wall-E have set an intelligence standard hard to equal, much less surpass. While Sita Sings the Blues at least equals those in intelligence and wonder, it surpasses them in imagination considering the parallel stories of wives unfairly abandoned by their husbands are set in modern and ancient times, based on the well-know Ramayana story in India.
Although the animation seems a primitive 2-D next to Pixar's successfully realistic product, director and almost everything-else-in-the-picture Nina Paley suffuses the frames with brilliant colors and variable landscapes. Heroine Sita is shaped in circles and curves to make her voluptuous and expressive in an endearingly abstract style.
I have never seen such richly subversive animation that pushes the feminist agenda without offending. The story, after all, is clear about the failure of mankind over the millennia to stop the sexism that puts women through humiliation without retribution. Paley's success at entertaining with a wildly imaginative palette and loveable characters and cats contradicts, however, the generalization that all women suffer degradations centuries old?she is an artist and entrepreneur, who, faced with a restrictive copyright law that doesn't let her market the film because of Jazz singer Annette Hanshaw' 1920's performance (the music is in the public domain, but not the publishing) distributes her film free (find it in ten installments on YouTube).
Hanshaw's Betty-Boop like singing is the apex of pleasure in this multi layered story, whose intricacy is richly rewarding, sometimes difficult even for Indians to decipher, such as the three Indian voice-overs who wittily try to figure out the details of the Ramayana legend. I rarely make the time to return to a film before I report on it?this time I will happily return to hear Sita sing the blues and put the beautiful mosaic into order.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics shows, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com