Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Lonely 80’s Vampire on a Skateboard, or Thoughts on A Girl Walks Home Alone, At Night

Shelia Vand is the vampire skateboard girl

The black and white film opens on a waif-like girl in an oversized stripey 80’s shirt dancing slowly in her bedroom and listening to moody synthpop by…  Who is that, Dépêche Mode?  Joy Division?  In addition to her vintage turntable, her room is plastered in posters that look like Madonna and Michael Jackson at first glance, but like the music, are not quite right.  The camera pans over her dresser, covered in wallets and jewelry.  I appreciate movies that show you everything you need to know about a character in a few wordless cuts.   This is a low budget indie film avoiding licensing fees with sound-alike music and generic renderings of famous posters but the filmmaker’s thriftiness is used to create an off-kilter, surreal dreamscape in A Girl Walks Home Alone, at Night (2014), or in Arabic:  دختری در شب تنها به خانه میرود‎‎  Dokhtari dar šab tanhâ be xâne miravad.
Director Ana Lily Amirpour describes her film as “The First Iranian Vampire Western”, and to my limited knowledge she is certainly correct.  But the Mideast has a rich and ancient mythology concerning blood-sucking demons, the primary one being the Babylonian Lilitu, who the Hebrews called Lillith.  There’s a really cool Mesopotamian icon that depicts her as a winged woman with bird feet, if you're interested, and how could you not be?
The movie is filmed in Persian, and my initial thoughts were how were they able to make a movie like this in Iran?  It was actually filmed near Bakersfield; in a bleak landscape that stands in admirably for the deserted Iranian town known only as Bad City.  Oil rigs pump constantly in the background, the beating heart of the village, the lifeblood of the country and the only tacit acknowledgement of the current political state the world finds itself in.
There’s a heavy Jim Jarmusch or David Lunch vibe to this film, not just because it was filmed in black and white but with the characters living their lives in quiet indifference amongst surreal scenes like the unexplained open graves by the side of the road.  In the tradition of Eraserhead or Down by Law director Ana Lily Amirpour creates a series of black and white vignettes of various characters connected by a single vampiric thread. The vampire, known in the screen credits as “The Girl”, is played with a coldly enigmatic resolution by Sheila Vand.  She is a dark vision in her black chādor, floating silently across the empty streets on her stolen skateboard.
The Girl crosses paths with Arash, a young man driving a classic 50’s Thunderbird who is immediately smitten.  You know what will happen next.  It’s a quirky vampire love story in the tradition of Only Lovers Left Alive (Another Jarmusch film), Let the Right One In or one of my favorites, Tony Scott’s The Hunger starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie & Susan Sarandon.  (That cast list alone demands that you see this movie).
The Middle East has become so politicized that it’s refreshing to watch an Arab film that is so apolitical.  We can forget that people are people, all over the world.  They fall in love, have hopes and dreams, disappoint their parents, and go to parties.  It’s just important that they remember to watch out for vampires when they walk home from those parties.



my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.