a girl walks home alone at night director ana lily amirpour talks elvis, kale, and loneliness
We caught up with the breakout, badass director about creating the world’s first Iranian vampire Western.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is definitely not your typical vampire flick. Shot in black and white and with English subtitles, the genre-mashing film draws more from spaghetti westerns and neo-noir than certain tweenage literature. Girl follows an unnamed female protagonist who spends her evenings dancing to 80s new wave in her basement, stealing skateboards, and gnawing on the necks of Bad City's bad apples. Following the film's highly anticipated theatrical release, i-D spoke to its director, Ana Lily Amirpour, about what went in to her debut feature.
Where did you grow up?
Even though I'm Iranian and I was born in England, I've been in America most of my life, so I feel very American. I hit puberty in Bakersfield, California, which is a weird kind of town, almost like the one in Footloose.
That's not where you shot the film, is it?
I shot in a town called Taft, which is about 45 miles away from Bakersfield. My high school football team would play all these other little desert towns, so that's how I knew it even existed. Taft is an oil town, it has the highest density of oil in California. There's hundreds, maybe even thousands, of oil rigs, refineries, and smoke stacks in these enormous oil fields. It's an amazing, surreal, primeval landscape. I just was obsessed with it.
Did that oil drenched landscape remind you of Iran?
Yes in a sense, but I was never trying to show a real place in this film; I was really just thinking about the stuff that I'm made of and what's in my mind. So to me, the setting is just a reminder that no matter what weird melodrama human beings get caught up in, industry is constant. Taking and making and re-making things seems true about what we are. When I meet or see people with their kale salads or organic smoothies and stuff, I feel like that's actually pretty unnatural. I feel more natural in Vegas, you know? That's more true to human nature. We're such weird, funny, strange creatures.
Can you tell us about the music in this film?
Usually when I'm thinking of a story or all the films I love and am inspired by like Gummo, True Romance, or Wild at Heart, they tend to be like ten moments. It's not about the plot for me; what I remember are individual scenes and moments and characters. Music shapes our perceptions and experiences of those things so much, and it's so much a part of how I design everything. In some instances, the music comes to me even before the scene does. I'll know a certain song is the sound of a character, the feel of a character. With Girl, I knew I wanted to have this Western kind of vibe or spirit. Around the time I had just finished writing the script, I met Collin Hegna, one of the guitarists for The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I told him I had written an Iranian vampire Western and he was like, "I have a spaghetti western-esque side project called Federale." When I heard that music, I knew it was the musical spine of the film. I knew certain sequences were going to be built around those pieces of music; it's almost like scoring the film to the music and not the other way around.
I'm not really into religion, but I definitely believe in the power of music. You have a room full of people all different ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, whatever, and music brings everyone to a place together like nothing else can. Life is such an abstraction, so much of what's going on in a moment is inside your head. Especially when you're trying to communicate that through a film, sometimes music captures it better than words or dialogue ever could.
In a similar vein, how important was each character's clothing or sense of style to the story you were telling?
How characters look and what they wear is such a big part of any movie, but especially this one. Just like the sounds that describe them, the way characters look is such a huge part of how I design them. People - icons, rather - create culture. There was Elvis Presley and then there was rockabilly culture; everything mutates into everything else. It's weird how these iconic people pollinate so many things. How could you even begin to fully explain how much shit was fertilised by Elvis Presley, Brigitte Bardot, or even Riff Raff? If you dress a certain way, you really start to feel it.
Loneliness and solitude are huge parts of any vampire film. How did you approach those themes?
I have a very close, intimate relationship with my loneliness and solitude; they're big parts of how my mind works. Loneliness in general has a sort of knee-jerk bad PR, it's really frowned upon, especially now that we have phones, constant places to escape just being with yourself. But for me, I really value, love, and am close to it. Yeah I long for intimacy, but really most of the chances we have to interact with other people are kind of meaningless, robotic things--ordering a latte or the whatever stuff that makes up your day. That shit terrifies me way more than loneliness!
So I'd rather stay with myself and the stuff that I'm paying attention to than constantly escape to a meaningless on-the-surface kind of contact. And when you do have a connection of with someone that's truly, undeniably meaningful, it shakes you, it really shakes you! I don't know if it's biology, animalistic hormones, magic, or what the fuck it is, but sometimes you just see another person and you feel like you've known them for thousands of years. There's something really comforting about it. To me, a vampire is the extreme, amplified, most lonely of all. But why does that have to be bad?
What's up next for you?
I'm working on my next film. It's called The Bad Batch; it's in colour and English. It's a psychedelic western cannibal love story. It's kind of romantic and the soundtrack is really dope. I can't say much more, but when I'm making a film, I feel like I'm at home. I'm the most alive, I feel like myself.
Text Emily Manning
Film stills from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night by Ana Lily Amirpor