Sita Appropriates the Blues

Again with the visually stunning films. When will it end? Seriously though, Sita Sings the Blues is a brilliantly animated and hilarious film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The blending of two cultures mirrors the personal experiences of Nina Paley perfectly. Everything seems to work, but nothing in the film is new, or is it?

The most intriguing element of the film is that almost every detail, every aspect of the film, even the contemporary parallel, is appropriated from anything. The world, modern culture, ancient culture, 20’s jazz and almost everything was available to Nina Paley and she made magnificent use of each appropriated item. Throughout the film there are small snaps of appropriation in many scenes, but one of the more interesting incidents is Paley’s appropriation of photographs into the cityscapes in the contemporary parallel. With the opening “shot” of San Francisco there are actual house, bridges and trolleys. In all of the cityscapes in the film the mixture of appropriated photos and Squigglevision produces an uncanny type feel to the contemporary story. The story is familiar, but it is kept at a distance so that it merely reflects a distorted “reality” that could easily resemble anyone else’s life as it resembles the story of Sita.

Another interesting mode of appropriation exists in the fact that the story of Sita is used to tell/ re-tell Nina’s personal story. Although the re-telling of Sita’s story is done in a unique way, the story is being “borrowed” in order to prescribe meaning to the “main” contemporary story. Paley could have created an animated story that did not involve the events of Ramayana, but then she would not have been true to herself. She spent time in Indian and Sita’s story became a part of who she is. Therefore, it makes sense for Paley to create a film, which incorporates all of the aspects of her cultural and digital hybridity. As I will talk about in my presentation on the mash-up today, Paley is surrounding by all types of stories and medias, or “noise,” that she must congeal into a manageable story that involves everything important and meaningful in her life, not just one aspect. Even the music of Annette Hanshaw was appropriated into the film in order to progress the story of Sita, a story that happened centuries before the music was produced. Everything is mashed up and blended perfectly to create a story, which is strikingly similar to several, but unlike any. Sita Sings the Blues is an entirely unique and original film.

With all of that being said, the thing I found most important when viewing this film was Nina Paley’s manifesto to her audience, “I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes” (Nina Paley). Culture is exactly a shared experience that belongs to everyone, which can be owned by no one. I seem to always get on a soapbox about copyright issues, but the truth is people do not realize that it is impossible to own language, culture, music, literature and anything else. Of course, someone can prescribe value to and claim all of these. There is a reason society is called society and not some term that would suggest we are a collective of individuals, which to a certain extent we are. However, we build, create and learn from each other. The commercialization of the noncommercial has placed a divide between those who create and those who learn. Instead, we are now producers and consumers and none of the products are art and they do not further society. What Nina Paley did with Sita Sings the Blue is create a film that allows the audience to see what our modern culture truly is and she allowed us free access to it, because what is in her film and any film always already belonged to us.

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  1. April 7th, 2011
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  2. April 7th, 2011
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