Monday, November 27, 2006

Sita Sings the Blues

In poking around for hard cold facts to back up my contention that Annette Hanshaw deserves greater adoration by the ukulele-playing public than Ruth Etting (see the friendly fire between Craig and me, below), I stumbled across this astounding find.

Sita Sings the Blues is a work-in-progress animated film by Nina Paley which retells the ancient Hindu epic, Ramayana, from Sita's perspective in a sort of "Betty Boop goes Bollywood." And, get this: Annette Hanshaw provides the voice of Sita.

Paley's idea for the film sprung from the implosion of her marriage, as she began to see parallels between her story and Sita's. After her husband dumped her via email (clearly not a uke player):

"...I was temporarily homeless. I couldn't return to my old apartment in San Francisco, which was rented out, and I couldn't go back to India. So I "sofa-surfed" in New York for a while. One sofa belonged to a jazz collector, being house-sat by a friend of mine. During my stay I had access to his huge record collection, and there I heard Annette Hanshaw for the first time. The song was "Mean to Me," and I was hooked - it became my "theme song." My friend later gave me a whole CD of Hanshaw songs, which I played over and over.

"These songs - Mean to Me, Am I Blue, Daddy Won't You Please Come Home, Moanin' Low - tell the same story I found in the Ramayana. Woman loves man, man does her wrong, woman loves man anyway and suffers horribly. They're the Blues; they're Sita's story, and mine. It seemed a natural fit. Annette Hanshaw was the perfect voice: delicate and girlish, vulnerable and strong. Hanshaw was billed as "Society's Blues Singer," also appropriate for a princess like Sita."
"Mean to Me" is my favorite Hanshaw recording, so it was a huge delight to see that Paley chose it for her film. There's another reason why her choice of Annette Hanshaw is so perfect: it's the Betty Boop connection. Betty Boop was a caricature of flapper siren Helen Kane and Annette made several recordings imitating Kane's style.

(This even led to a lawsuit, according information at this site:

"Reportedly, when Annette released some of her Helen Kane imitations the Victor Company was furious and sued Helen for breach of contract. They thought Helen was singing under a pseudonym for a different record company."

But lest Craig say that this tarnishes Annette's reputation, I note that it seems that Ruth Etting even did her share of Helen Kane rip-offs.)

In any event, go see this site with all due haste. It has several of the segments that are completed to date, and the animation is just wonderful. Annette's voice really brings Paley's Sita to life, and vice versa. Consider this an early Xmas present. Link

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sita Sings the Blues is going to be broadcast on New York PBS station WNET Channel 13 on Saturday March 7 at 10:45pm on the series Reel13.

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