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First Look Review - SHE SINGS TO THE STARS

The lives of a travelling magician, a Native American farmer and her grandson become entangled in the desert.



Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Jennifer Corcoran

Starring: Larry Cedar, Fannie Loretto, Jesus Mayorga



A thoughtful meditation on nature, destiny and the harmonies that exist within the margins of experience, and a film which likewise encourages its audience to ruminate on its spiritual philosophy and arresting cinematography.


Midway through writer/director Jennifer Corcoran’s mystical debut, city slicker Lyle, marvelling at the dramatic New Mexican landscape that surrounds him, amazed by the overwhelming plains and domineering rocks set among whispering winds and sparse animal music that make up She Sings to the Stars' locale, states that taking in the vivid desert is "like putting on 3D glasses in the movies". The observation is perhaps layered, as much a comment upon the film’s milieu as its intent: looking at fate and consequence through fresh eyes, a thoughtful meditation on nature, destiny and the harmonies that exist within the margins of experience, and a film which likewise encourages its audience to ruminate on its spiritual philosophy and arresting cinematography.
Lyle (Larry Cedar) is a failing stage magician, down to his last 20 bucks as he traverses the desert en route to a cross state gig. His car overheating, he is lucky to chance upon a filling station which is manned by the ostentatious Third (Jesus Mayorga). Lyle gets his petrol, but no coolant - Third, who wants to escape the desert with dreams of being a dancer, explains that the area is completely dry of water. Not to be deterred, mercurial Lyle does a little close up magic, tricks Third out of 20 dollars’ worth of gas, and peels it into the night. Suddenly, a light the size of a rabbit appears in the sky, scampering through the dark. Bewitched by the phenomena, Lyle follows the strange illumination, his haste causing the car radiator to finally go bust, stranding him at the home of Mabel (Fannie Loretto), a Native American corn farmer and grandmother of Third.
Following on from the ethereally structured alliteration of its title, there is no such thing as coincidence in She Sings to the Stars; this is a cinema of transcendence, taking the pantheist ideologies of Emerson and Whitman, and using the intense evocation of New Mexico to explore the relationship between these three disparate souls, who have been thrown together by kismet. In promotion for the film, Corcoran has discussed how she wanted to look at mankind’s ‘potential’, and that ‘the natural world is the greatest inspiration for that’. Here, nature is the ultimate leveller: the 20 bucks that Third demanded from Lyle is soon left forgotten, the camera pointedly focussing on the note uselessly blowing in the desert wind as Third suffers from a rattlesnake bite, Lyle is completely incongruous in his prestidigitator top hat and tails, and Mabel’s crops suffer as she quietly believes in a very different sort of magic to Lyle’s illusions. All three characters have dreams and inspirations that lie beyond the lot prescribed to them, and the homestead where they are trapped. Far from water, the hospital, the static and noise of industrial existence becomes a crucible for their actualisation, with the film utilising a metonymic iconography wherein objects – a magician’s hat, the endless sky, the dry corn - come to be redolent symbols of transfiguration.
There’s a brief lull in the latter third of the movie where narrative convention demands that Lyle and Third patch up their differences, and the film slows a little, perhaps not un-coincidentally because within this sequence the action is confined to Mabel’s house, and the camera has to forgo the inspiration of the vast outdoors. Soon enough though, the sky splits in two, and Corcoran, with cinematographer John DeFazio, captures the cascading rain in gorgeous, wide open shots, which, like the scene of Third dancing alone in his truck high beams, the hyperfocal shots of washing upon a line whipping in the breeze, typify this rather lovely film and its striking sequences, which are suffused with visual magic.
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