Here is yet another excerpt from my interview with Nina Paley about the Agni Pariksha episode of her feature-length animated film, Sita Sings the Blues. In this excerpt we’re talking about film Nina’s life comes crashing into Sita’s and how that’s just how Paley felt about her life and the Ramayana.
At a few of points in the interview I’ve stuck a double asterisk (**) to point out a passage where Paley seems unsure of what she’s saying, where she’s seems to be saying something more to accommodate my questions than as a report on what she actually thought. After this interview was concluded I had another, much shorter, conversation with Paley about her discomfort at talking about art in these terms. I’ll transcribe that one of these days.
Hot tears, hot anger, hot grief
NP: OK. Ah, the eyes. Sadness. This is all about, like, crying –
BB: Crying hot tears –
NP: Yes, crying tears of flame. Um, yeah, I might’ve had the idea just that – this is a guess, I don’t know what was really happening. But, you know, Sita’s a goddess, she represents transcendent principles of suffering and devotion and like that. ** Ah, but she’s divine and, um . . . I don’t know, what was I really thinking? It’s sorta’ hard to talk in words about what this was about. I think just the idea that there’s –
BB: What about those eyes?
NP: Oh these? Well these come from, ah, I mean I’ve seen them in Tibetan art. In fact I, the apartment I lived in Brooklyn, I sublet from a friend who was in Tibet and he these Tibetan flags, he decorated it with, that were just these eyes. [too soft to hear]
BB: Is that lion from a devotional card?
NP: Oh, of course. Yes, that’s probably Durga’s mount.
Yeah, so anyway, they’re actually relating to Sita, or Sita’s relating to them. They’re all feeling this together. It’s not just Sita, it’s become a sorta’ universal activity.
BB: Well you see, the interesting thing about where this is placed in the film is that it’s right after film Nina gets the news –
BB: - so it’s, I mean, up to that point it’s sort of Nina’s story juxtaposed against Sita. And at this point, I mean, Nina’s story plunges right into Sita’s story.
NP: That’s how I felt! That’s how I actually perceived my own life. It’s like laahaa just goin’ along, then I had this like weird crashing into the Ramayana.
BB: Yeah, I mean, so Sita’s crashing into the gods and they’re crashing into her, and now you’re crashing into that whole thing, and basically the whole universe is becoming one in this hot mess of anger and grief.
NP: [laugh] Yeah. A very brief hot mess.
A Rip in Reality
NP: And then, you know, she blows out the flame and we go on our separate ways. Maybe that’s why you say it’s like a ritual. There is where I myself in my own experience, that like, rip –
NP: - rip in reality happened, there’s this weird intersection –
BB: That’s what rituals are about.
BB: I mean, you mark this sort of – there’s this sacred space. And we do a little ceremony and we all leave the regular world. And we go in this sacred space and we go crazy. And then, we come out, and we’re changed.
NP: Huh. This was involuntary – [both laugh] – very involuntary. And when I’ve tried, the thing about most rituals is that, they, most of them fall pretty flat on me. ‘I know this is supposed to be happening. but it’s not.’
NP: Oh, is that it? [That is, is that the last screen shot?] No.
Sita and Sitas
NP: ** I think here what I’m trying to say is that Sita is not just one, but that Sita is –
BB: Oh yeah, this is the multiple Sitas.
NP: ** Yeah, and as the story just keeps repeating, um, and regenerating –
BB: And the little Agnis coming there across the screen there it takes them 20 seconds to get from one side to the other.
Well, I have to ask Todd how he structured this thing. I’ve got a guess how the music is structured –
NP: Intuitively would be my answer –
BB: The major [visual] transitions are phrased to the same major phrases in the music, pretty much. I mean, if this had been Disney there would have been bar sheets and every eight bars, the lead animator or whatever would have said ‘switch to something else here guys.’ Because that, I mean, I know you didn’t do it that way. When I was making those notes on that table, that’s what was coming up. I was –
NP: I animated to the music and the music follows certain patterns.
What I was going to say that this also – they’re moving to the fire, so you got Sita here –
BB: So this is the orange outline, I gotta get something verbally to identify this thing on my —
NP: Yes, back to the orange outline of Sita with the little uh –
BB: - dancing –
NP: - cheaply printed dancers in front of her going to the fire which is on the right hand side – here I was trying to show this happens to a lot of women. In fact it just happens, this is a pattern that expresses itself through lots and lots of women –
BB: That’s why this story has been kept in circulation all over the damn place –
NP: Right, but Sita’s in the background. So here’s the principle of it, happening, and here it is being carried out in real life. Unfortunately, you know, in India, you know, historically, yes, women have literally ended up in the fire. Literally.
NP: Ah, yes, there we have life and death [laughs] meeting.
BB: Well – and the gods back there too.
BB: Now is, I mean – are you like going through a virtual tube here or, ‘cause these rings move.
NP: Yeah. I mean it makes it feel like you’ve moving through – ** you’re moving through something, obviously.
BB: And that’s again your hand-drawn flames that you arranged around –
NP: Yeah. Flash is great, animate one thing –
BB: [Sung to the tune of the praise Rama song from the movie] Flash is great, Flash is good –
NP: Yeah. Adobe is not great, but Flash is lovely.
NP: There they are, all becoming one, life and death, and the real and the unreal.
BB: The Sitas are fading away.
NP: And god is left, or the divine, or ** whatever you want to call it. Something beyond.
BB: What happens is we get to the divine squiggle fire, that clarifies, and solidifies -
BB: There we are.
NP: Oh, but this is the end of the fire.
BB: What’s the background?
NP: This is just a different paint stroke. The background is black and the way I programmed Studio Artist to rotoscope it [unintelligible] got that way. Like where there was activity it would trace the activity and where there was nothing it would [unintelligible]
Never going to be the same
NP: She’s blowin’ out –
BB: Except this time she’s got some fill in her.
NP: Sure, well, because she’s been transformed.
NP: She’s never gonna’ be the same.