Nina Paley: The Postmodern Smile - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
20Apr/120

Nina Paley: The Postmodern Smile

Due to conflicting schedules, Amanada and I were unable to watch Eyes Wide Shut for the final installment of A Couple on Kubrick.  Enjoy this piece of artist appreciation in the meantime!

My favorite part of the popular web series, Everything Is A Remix, explores the thought that there are no original notions in cinema.  It's a video I enjoyed as comfort food since this has been true since the beginning when film.  In the beginning it was essentially a fancy set of moving photographs before someone realized one scene does not necessarily need to follow the other.  Then film developed it's own language of montage, we got cinema, and eventually it affected the world of animation.

Aside from callbacks to animated titans of the past, it's rare to see an American feature-length animated film which borrows from the world as freely as one of Tarantino's films or any of the experimentation of the New Wave.  So rare I'm having trouble thinking of an animated movie which doesn't follow the traditional 3 Act structure and immerse itself into it's own world with little knowledge of the outside.  Sure, Pixar does what it can, but that universe is becoming more insular to the point of incest.  Dreamworks tries but it comes off as crass and doesn't mean much for the film or the style.  Little callbacks and trinkets fill the background of things the animators and directors were influenced by, but very little of that ended up in the films themselves.

This isn't automatically a bad thing, I admire the classical approach and love some of the movies it's produced.  It's just the only movie I've seen which plays with it's own reality and influence in a long time is Winnie the Pooh from last year.  Even then, it retread a lot of the same ground covered in those classic short-films in the '60s and '70s.  This is why I'm grateful for the Nina Paley, a wonderful director and animator who has dedicated her life to preserving the spirit of history in her art and making it feel fresh all the while.

I was intrigued by her work after a glowing review from Ebert in 2009 for her first (and to date, only) feature film Sita Sings the Blues.  What sets Paley apart from the rest, without watching her movie at all, was she decided to release the entire film free to the world because she believes art should be shared.  This is incredibly noble, and something Harvey Weinstein could have done as the ultimate "Screw you" to the MPAA if he was more interested in the message of Bully than the possibility of drumming up more publicity.

Then I sat down to watch the film and it hummed with history.  The plot of Sita involves a woman going through marital woes with her husband, crosscut with a retelling of the story of Ramayana (to India as reverently upheld as the story of Samson and Delilah here), and a trio of confused narrators who are trying to make sense of the whole thing.  Paley wrote and animated the whole thing herself over the course of six years.  In the film she tells one story with a rendition of Betty Boop retrofitted with the colors of Nickelodeon, another paying tribute to newspaper comic strips, and yet another to a whimsical look at how the past would comment on itself given life and free time to chat away.

It's an exhilarating experience, and just when it seems Paley cannot bring in more influences, the sad and lovely voice of Annette Hanshaw (a favorite of Bukowski) provides most of the soundtrack.  Then the entire world is torn apart just as the comic strip and epic heroines lives are and the results are amazing.  She blends traditional animation, partially animated movements of statues, rotoscoped dancers, and fire aplenty in one scene which shows more creative ambition than all the Toy Story's combined - and it's all from the love of one person.

My love of Sita grew more and culminated in a wonderful night screening the film along with other curious patrons and excellent parents of Normal, Illinois.  We all came into the Normal theater and during any scene in the movie you could see my and the other patron's eyes smiling.  A little boy made the best comment of the night when poor Sita was crying and said to his mom, "I hope you never feel that sad."

Sita is free, available to download in a Blu-ray quality format, and is possibly the best animated film I've ever seen.  Please do yourself a favor and watch it.  Afterward you can bask in the fact that her other shorts are also available for free online and, if you can, please donate.

Posted by Andrew

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