Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Sita Sings the Blues


Finding a movie that shows you something brand new, something you’ve never seen before, is sort of like winning the lottery for $250,000,000. (Except for the part about getting rich and paying off your debts and never having to work again and buying a yacht and a private island and a Rolls-Royce and a mansion and hiring servants …okay, it’s not like winning the lottery, but it’s still pretty cool.) Nina Paley created it pretty much by herself on a home computer, but don’t let that worry you. This is some mighty sophisticated stuff. She’s a hell of an artist. Describing the film is a problem, though. In reaction to her boyfriend breaking up with her via email from India, she got depressed and began reading the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic. She began relating the story to her own life, and animating it. The result is fantastic. The art varies from Hindu and Indonesian imagery to something called squigglevision, to … pretty much anything. It is all punctuated with blues songs by Annette Hanshaw from the 1920s. When things get confusing, the action is commented on by three Indians, who are themselves fairly confused. It’s hilarious and visually stunning. And seeing the story, I’m struck once again by the thought that Hindu gods are a really scary and violent bunch. In a Heavenly No-Hold-Barred Smackdown they’d eat the entire Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons for breakfast, and still have room to devour the odd Buddhist.

It has a bizarre distribution history. Because of complicated copyright issues she couldn’t afford to release it in the traditional way. Only a small number of DVDs were created, and Netflix seems to have gotten most of those (that’s how we saw it) but it’s available for free download. Don’t ask me where; I know nothing about that, but it should be easy to find. It’s an experiment. She’s a member of this group that believes everything should be free to everyone, but has never told me how I would make a living under such an arrangement. I think they’re fucking nuts, but I don’t hold that against her. Plenty of great art has been created by nuts, and as long as I don’t have to give my work away, I don’t care what she does with hers.