Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Most Interet Archive films have found their way there because someone was careless about renewing copyright at some point. Or because they are very, very old.

But there are also films that are there because the copyright holders made a deliberate choice to distribute them that way, being more interested in giving the film as wide a distribution as possible than in making money from it, or because they make money in ways other than traditional distribution channels.

These films are sometimes made by amateurs (that holds true especially for many short films, often of mediocre quality, but occasionally a diamond in the rough), but a number are completely professionally produced. One of these is the animated feature Sita Sings the Blues.

Sita and Rama in Ramayana section of Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Sita Sings the Blues tells the autobiographical story of how the animator Nina lost her boyfriend, home and cat, all at once, and parallels that storyline with the old Indian mythological Ramayana epic about the goddess Sita and her husband Rama.

This film is not only very good, it is also innovative on several levels. Most immediately noticeable is the mixing of at least five distinctly different animation styles, each setting the mood for a certain part or aspect of the story. Underlying the animation is also the interesting fact that it is largely animated in Adobe Flash.

In some ways, the storytelling of Sita Sings the Blues is very similar to that of Three Ages, which I wrote about last week. But where the latter movie has three parallell storylines, Sita Sings the Blues has only two traditional ones, with a third layer consisting of three shadow puppets commenting upon the events and characters in the Sita segments. This last layer is perhaps the weakest in terms of maintaining the tension of the plot, yet it is also very powerful in its own way.

One final thing which must be mentioned is the music, performed by the 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw. Combining these old songs with the ancient story and the modernistic animation is a stroke of genius. The banality of the words amplifies the depth of the double plot.

This film is best enjoyed together with someone you like.

Nina Paley in Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Sita Sings the Blues
Download link
Year: 2008
Running time: 1 h 21 min
Director: Nina Paley
Stars: Annette Hanshaw, Reena Shah, Nina Paley
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (1920×1080)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (4.1 G)


Victory through Air Power (1943)

Disney’s animated features in the 1940s was a bumpy ride, to say the least. It started with classics-to-be such as Pinocchio (1940) and Bambi (1942), while the rest of the decade saw a range of films sewn together from shorter animations without any real connection, for example Melody Time (1948). These latter are rarely released on video, but at least tend to be seen in lists of all Disney animated features. But there is one animated Disney feature which is normally left out of such lists, and which will never be included in the Walt Disney Diamonds line.

Victory through Air Power, released exactly 70 years ago the day after tomorrow, is forgotten today not because it is a bad movie. It is not. But its message is not exactly relevant to today’s fans.

Nazi forces attack in Victory through Air Power (1943)

This was a time when a good deal of the Disney production was war-time propaganda and information. Walt Disney had read a book by Russian-born Alexander de Seversky, where the author argues for the use of powerful strategic bombers as the most important strategy for winning the war. Disney was so impressed that he decided to make a film on the subject, and film critic Leonard Maltin has been quoted to the effect that the film made such an impact on Franklin D. Roosevelt that it changed the strategies used by the United States in the war (source: Wikipedia).

The film begins with a 20-minute history of aviation. This part stands well on its own, and is light enough in content that it could well be watched by kids. Even though this part is very different in style from the rest of the movie, the transition works well through a presentation of the career of Alexander de Seversky, who appears in live sequences throughout the rest of the film, arguing for the military strategical developments that were Disney’s rationale for making the film.

By Disney standards, the animation is a bit simplistic at times, but it is nevertheless very well done, and in its best moments extremely beautiful. The animators took every opportunity to appeal to the audience’s emotions, and the result is a film full of powerful imagery. Even though the final two thirds of the film basically consist of arguments and propaganda, the animations make it worth watching even for those who may not be very interested in the film’s historical implications.

There are two versions of this film at the Internet Archive. The “secondary” version, intended for internal use in the US Air Force, is slightly longer but all in black and white. They may have reasoned that a colour version did not appear serious enough, or it may have been a matter of cost reduction. I have not checked to see what the exact differences are, but probably only minor details; perhaps just title cards in between reels. If you are interested, here is a link to the black and white version.

This film is best enjoyed after having seen all the other Disney animated features (so that you can proudly say “Check!” when done), or if you are interested in military history. Every Disney fan should see it, though.

Allied strategic bombers strike back in Victory through Air Power (1943)

Victory through Air Power
Download link
Year: 1943
Running time: 1 h 5 min
Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, H.C. Potter
Stars: Alexander de Seversky
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (396 M)

The General (1926)

On this day in history, 150 years ago, the battle of Gettysburg began. Whether it was a heroic fight for a noble cause, or a terrible slaughter (about 50,000 dead; almost ten times the population of the town where I live), there can be no doubt that it was an event that shaped the history of the world, in such a way that the consequences can still be felt.

There are surprisingly few interesting movies about the American Civil War on the Internet Archive. One of those few happen to be Buster Keaton’s The General.

Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

The General is based on the true story of a band of of Union spies who stole a train and drove it through Confederate territory, causing as much damage as possible. They were followed by the train’s conductor with two other men, and this is where Keaton takes off with his story. Keaton takes the role of the train engineer Johnnie, who desperately wants back his train, and also his girlfriend who happened to be on board when the hijacking was made. He has to go through fire and water (literally) to do so. Keaton adapted most of the story to fit the needs of a comedy, but otherwise he went to great lengths to make the details (such as the locomotives) historically accurate. Interestingly, the Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase (1956) is based on the same events, but tells the story from the Union perspective.

Perhaps the most memorable parts of The General are the many amazing stunts and effects, not least the scene where a steam locomotive crashes into a ravine when a bridge falls apart. This was apparently the most expensive single scene to be filmed during the entire silent era, and the locomotive is actually real. It remained there on the bottom of the ravine for decades.

It is very difficult to imagine The General without the stunts. The success of this film builds very much upon the body language and amazing timing of one of the all-time greatest of film comedians. If you have never seen Buster Keaton before, then this is a very good place to start. In my opinion, Keaton has made even better films, but even so it is one of the greatest comedies of the silent era.

When you have finished watching this film, you should take a look at the fantastic blog Silent Locations, which has a post about the film. Make sure to follow the link to the complete presentation about the film. Amazing stuff!

This film is best enjoyed after having been to a good railway museum (such as the one in Kennesaw, Georgia, where the real The General still stands).

Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

The General
Download link
Year: 1926
Running time: 1 h 18 min
Director: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman
Stars: Buster Keaton
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Soundtrack: Excellent; synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPG4 (933 M)