Sita Sings the Blues...At Last...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Have you seen "Sita Sings the Blues"? It is am amazing piece of work, as it stands alone, but also because of the struggles its filmmaker, Nina Paley, had to endure in order to get the film to see the light of day.

The movie is a sort of witty, swinging 20s jazz-influenced rendition of the Ramayana, in the context of a woman with a broken-heart. The heartbreak is based on Paley's own life experience (check out her blog for all the gut-wrenching details). Earlier this year, Roger Ebert called the film “astonishing original” and something that has him “smiling from one end of the film to the other.” And, truly, no words can capture how amazing the animation is.

Paley did everything in the movie herself--she wrote it, she scored it, she animated it, she edited it. Everything. And the film was complete in 2005. Between then and now, Paley was in her own personal hell, going nearly bankrupt trying to let the film free. The problem? She did not properly license the jazz songs she uses in the film. After a recent screening in SF, Paley walked onto the stage and said, "You've all just participated in an illegal act."

As explained in the New York Times: "Though...[the] recordings are not protected by federal copyright, those who own the rights to the songs themselves charge tens of thousands of dollars that Ms. Paley does not have to use them — which is also more than independent distributors have offered for a theatrical release."

So what does renegade Paley do? The obvious thing: Release the film for free.

If you haven't seen this you have to. It is smart, irreverent, hilarious and just plain beautiful. Your kids will love it too. And if you want to support Nina Paley's vision, and her crusade against what she considers "oppressive copyright law," buy one of these super cool tshirts.

10 comments:
boukman70 said...

Thanks for hepping us to this one. I'm a little torn, personally. As a writer, you know I'm down with the copyright laws. However, being a part of the hip-hop generation, I'm all about sampling and remixing. Record labels don't have my sympathies at all. They've always screwed the artist. The artists themselves (the living ones, at least) can perform to make money. The ones that really suffer are the song writers. They only make money when their music sells. So, my heart goes out to them and the estates affected.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the above poster but am at a loss on what to think having been a fan of SSTB for years and having felt personally heartbroken that it couldn't reach a wider audience. It is such a beautiful piece, and Nina's blog makes you cry when you see the efforts she took to make the movie. At one point I believe she was living on the street, after having sold everything she owned to try to give the song owners a fair price.

Whatever the case, the movie, without the drama is sublime. Thanks for posting.

th said...

Very cool, I had never seen this. Amazing style.

Anonymous said...

Feel for the woman. But copyrights are there for a reason, to protect artists just like her!

VERY COOL movie, just watched the first half, love it.

Anonymous said...

Those shirts are rad

KBlizzard said...

I dont know about the whole "oppressive copyright laws" thing. If that's the case, why should I buy a shirt? I should just take the image and make my own shirt. But the movie looks pretty dope, notwithstanding...

Archana said...

I'm also not sure about your characterization of "oppressive copyright laws" without knowing the whole story. Copyright laws exist in order to protect artists, not only to give money to record companies... Curious to know more about that.

I'm definitely super-excited to watch SSTB though!!! Thanks for the link!

Jeremy Nicoll said...

I do not believe the original copyright laws were oppressive, but now they are just plain stupid. They keep extending the years the copyrights are in effect. It's nicknamed "The Mickey Mouse Law" as it seems to be extended any time the copyright on Disney's Mickey Mouse is about to expire. Big companies sue even when something is used under fair use. The US has the most litigious society, and part of it stems from our court systems favoring the legal trolls. I am a composer myself, and I am for loosening restrictions on copyright. Most of us small artists can't afford to pursue any copyright breakers even if we wanted to. Such laws only benefit those who have the money to spend on legal pursuance.

jenmichaels said...

Those who are bickering about "artist protection": I too am a writer, and I would love to see my work reimagined and reappropriated as this film does with the old blues music. It's not like Nina Paley cut a CD with those songs and said "These are mine, buy them". She artistically re-interpreted these songs and images into something new. And you know what my first reaction was after seeing half of Sita Sings the Blues? I wanted to know where I could buy that blues album.

I gather that the other folks who commented here didn't read the FAQ at sitasingstheblues.com. As the filmmaker explains, those blues songs are technically in the public domain, yet are still regulated by corporations that want money for their use. If anything, this film is evidence that our copyright laws are broken. If stuff doesn't truly get released to public domain when it's supposed to be, then what's the point of even HAVING a public domain clause in the copyright law?

Tim said...

Above poster has hit the nail on the head. Copyright exists to protect creativity and transforming one thing to another is the linchpin of creativity. Paley did not appropriate the songs. She made them into something entirely new.

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