An image from Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues."
An image from Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues."

Sita Sings the Blues brings personal eccentricities to animation

Full-length animated films have traditionally been very expensive to make, requiring teams of artists working over a long period of time. As a result, the medium's became the near-exclusive province of powerful studios with deep pockets but a box-office-motivated disinclination to take risks on unusual visions. In recent years, though, technology has allowed filmmakers to work on a smaller scale, creating more individualized and idiosyncratic works that don't have to rake in over $200 million in receipts to justify their existence. Waltz With Bashir, featured at last year's Denver Film Festival, was a brilliant example of this phenomenon -- and if Sita Sings the Blues, which screens at the Tivoli-based Starz FilmCenter beginning today, isn't quite as memorable, it remains an enjoyable journey into one person's imagination.

The woman in question is director Nina Paley, who offers multiple variations on "The Ramayana," a Hindu epic originally written in Sanskrit. The tales revolve around a character named Sita, who remains true to her husband, Rama, even after being kidnapped by a demon king, but is shunned after being rescued anyhow because of specious rumors about her purity, or lack thereof. One sequence features a trio of commentators dishing about the action like ancient variations on Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel; another places a contemporary couple in a similar scenario (sans the kidnapping); and a third features the goggle-eyed Sita seen above going through her paces to the music of Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer who peaked in popularity during the 1920s. Predictably, the results are scattershot, but they're also good-humored, witty and frequently diverting -- a fresh take on animation that couldn't possibly have come from Hollywood.

Sita unspools at 4:50 p.m. and 7 p.m. today, with additional screenings throughout the week. Tickets are $6-$9.50. Click here for all the details or phone 303-595-3456.

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