Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sing It, Sita

Late last year, Roger Ebert had an intriguing post on his blog that started like this:

It hardly ever happens this way. I get a DVD in the mail. I'm told it's an animated film directed by "a girl from Urbana." That's my home town. It is titled "Sita Sings the Blues." I know nothing about it, and the plot description on IMDb is not exactly a barn-burner: An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. Uh, huh. I carefully file it with other movies I will watch when they introduce the 8-day week.
Ebert later got an email from an old friend talking up the flick, so he finally watched it and was entranced. Cool, huh? It's what critics seem to live for, finding a hidden gem among all the crap out there and shining some light on it. Go straight to Netflix and reserved your copy, right?

Not exactly. The writer/director/almost everything else for the film, Nina Paley, can't find a distributor because of copyright issues. As I understand it, the actual recordings used in the movie have made it to public domain, but the publishing rights to the actual music has not.

Thankfully, it looks like Paley has found a solution to the problem. According to the Wiki page about the flick, she negotiated down the rights holders' claims from about $220k to $50k and took out a loan to pay the rights. So the flick is now "legit," even though it's not exactly readily available.

So where can you see it? Public TV station WNET in New York will broadcast it this weekend and, helpfully, has put it up in streaming form on their website. There are also free legit downloads from lots of places on the Web, as collected at the film's website. A DVD release is in the works.

Is it worth the hassle to see Sita Sings the Blues? I'd say so. It's an intriguing mix of music video and smart-assed mythic commentary. There's a frame story, too (taken from Paley's life), but it doesn't really add much to the film, IMHO. The animation is sort of low budget, but clever, so it works better than you might think.

Is it the best thing since sliced bread? No, but it's very good. Is it like anything else you've ever seen? Not a chance. That's reason enough to watch it, especially for free.

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