Saturday, February 27, 2010

Greg Sings the Blues (and Its Praises)

Sometimes things happen for a reason.  Sometimes they just happen.  Whether they bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye, they often catch you unawares, with some of the happiest moments occurring after some of the saddest, some of the most fulfilling moments after the most disappointing.

Such was the case Tuesday for me.  Having come to the end of my probationary period with an NGO (non-governmental organization, for those of you who talk like humans), I had failed to meet my goal of signing up one child sponsor a day.  So, as my thirtieth hour on the street melded into my lunch hour, I was, "let go."  Sounds much better that saying I was fired, canned, or kicked to the curb.  Much better than saying that I failed.

But luckily, failure of this sort is temporary, unless one decides to make it permanent.  I never have.  If I did, I could not wish to have a writing career.  You get to cross the moat of "no" as a writer only after you have enough rejection letters to cover the moat.  This post, however, is neither about failure nor about rejection.  It is, instead, about a movie that includes both, but is, in itself, a triumph.

I wrote about Sita Sings the Blues in regards to copyright law several months back, but I never officially reviewed the movie.  Indeed, I'm not sure that this will be an actual review, either, but more my sharing the experience of seeing this movie in an actual movie theater, with an actual audience, to those of you who read my blog on a weekly, or semi-weekly, or just this one post-ly, basis.

Those who have been fortunate enough to see this wonderful film know that it's a visual feast for the eyes (cliched, but true), which increased my excitement over seeing it in a theater, as opposed to on a computer screen.  Also, the sound system would be much better in a theater than the speaker system I heard it on back in Connecticut.

The main reason I was excited to see this film though, was in the knowledge that very few people would get to experience what I was about to experience.  Current copyright law prevents Sita Sings the Blues from obtaining even a limited two-week run in theaters, so you have to catch it when it appears.  I saw it at a one night showing at Metro Cinemas in the U-District in Seattle (Metro Cinemas is part of the Landmark Theatres chain, which should be applauded for allowing this film to be shown.  Kudos should also go to Scarecrow video, which helped sponsor the event, and to the two guys who show a classic movie there every Wednesday--this being the newest movie they've ever shown).

Because I have seen this movie twice before, during this viewing I could focus more intently on the visuals and on how the three elements (Nina's story, the Ramayana, and the song numbers) intertwine and complement each other.  In fact, the songs sounded even more appropriate to the story, not just to what was happening at the time in the Ramayana, but also what was happening in Nina's love life.  Even better, I didn't have to wait for a new section of the movie to load after ten minutes (ala youtube).

Nina Paley, the director/animator/creative guru behind Sita Sings the Blues, uses several distinct styles of 2-D animation to create a visually alive and beautiful movie.  Some parts of the film look like paintings one might find in Indian art galleries.  The "real life" sequences include squiggly lines and photo cutouts.  The song sequences include more rounded and shapely characters.  And then there are other styles that are hard to define, like the opening flower explosion sequence, or the dance sequence after Nina's primordial scream.

Even better, the more I see this film, the more layers I uncover.  And the fact that she tells these stories with wit and humor--and, near the end, pathos--only adds to the fun factor (even including one of the best recurring bits in the movie, which involves detailed shadow puppets trying to remember how the story in the Ramayana goes and the names of the characters involved).

There is an intermission sequence in this movie, so I waited to see if anyone would leave the theater during the sequence.  No one did, but I did sense confusion at first from some of the audience members (since the lights weren't coming on), which I thought was fantastic.  Even better was that I couldn't be sure if all of the voices I heard during this sequence were coming from the movie or from people in the theater.  Now that's an effect one could not get at home.

The best part of the experience was yet to come.  When the credits started rolling, only one guy left his seat--and he was in charge of the next showing.  No one else left their seat.  No one talked.  No one moved.  Until, the credits ended.  Then, everyone got up, starting fussing with their coats, began talking amongst themselves, and headed out into the night.  The only comparable experience I've had is when I went to see the movie Shine in a small, packed theater.  For that movie, people didn't move because they were emotionally stunned at what they had just seen.  For this movie, people didn't move because they wanted to enjoy the film to its end.  Also, the soundtrack (in addition to the songs by Annette Hanshaw) is gorgeous.

Like Shine and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, this is one movie-going experience that I shall remember for a long, long time.

To see Sita Sings the Blues, go to:  (information on this website includes how you can screen the movie yourself)

Standard Edition DVD
This image is from the standard DVD version of Sita Sings the Blues, which can be purchased here.


  1. The Ramayana, the epic on which the film is based, has been as familiar in India for centuries like the Bible at your end. The amazing thing is that Paley has made such a living breathing movie of it, using, of all things, the blues.

  2. I echo your sentiments, and hope one day to read all of the main mythological and theological texts from which all world literature flows.

  3. Oh! I totally forgot to tell you, after you posted about "Sita Sings the Blues" for the first time, I went and watched it! It was really great. I loved the whole concept... the intertwining of the stories and the music... and just everything! Thanks for posting about it. :)

  4. Sure thing, though equal thanks must go to Roger Ebert, since I wouldn't have found out about that movie without his recommendation.

    Here's his review of the film:
    Here's his post on the film:

    Also, I didn't know you were reading my blog back then. That was about a month before you first posted, right?

  5. Hmm, no, I'd say you posted about it a few months after I started commenting on your blog. :) The first time I commented was on your Before Sunrise/Sunset post.

  6. Yes, I remember that, but that post was written in November, whereas my Sita Sings the Blues post was written near the beginning of October. Check my sidebar. :-)

  7. Ohhhh! I didn't know you posted about it then.
    Haha, I was talking about your greatest movies of the decade post. Mea culpa! :)

  8. Touche! Though I believe you mean my greatest movies of the year post. ;-)


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