There’s an inevitable excitement that comes with meeting a new face in film, all the more so when that same person happens to be a film geek responsible for the following tweet: "If ever I was to meet Werner Herzog I would politely ask him to hypnotize me." Sure, Ana Lily Amirpour wears a Jodorowsky tee and alludes to her myriad of influences, but she’s also the mastermind behind "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," the highly original Persian vampire western that’s been wracking in acclaim from critics and cinephiles since premiering at Sundance earlier this year.
Shot in black and white, "Girl" first introduces us to Bad City, a fictional Iranian ghost town inhabited by a group of unusual characters. Funny, violent, lovely and surreal, the film predominately focuses on the romance between two individuals: Arash, a young, impressionable James Dean-esque man, and a lonely (and uber trendy) vampire (credited as "The Girl") who spends her time wandering through the town’s perpetually deserted streets.
Indiewire sat down with the eccentric Amirpour to discuss the film, her influences, "Game of Thrones" and — in a memorable moment — the Cheesecake Factory. "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" will be released in theaters tomorrow, November 21.
I first saw your film at the Rooftop event earlier this summer…
It’s an awesome event. I had a neck brace.
Afterwards you were DJ’ing and you had a spectacular playlist. Clearly music plays a huge role in your life. Can you tell me a bit about the selections in the film and how you went about that?
I love music and whenever I start thinking of a story or characters there’s always music that pops up. It’s just as much as an outfit that you’d think they would wear. The music they listen to will tell you more about their character. I knew I wanted the Iranian rock groups Radio Tehran and Kiosk. They were the first because they’re modern, kind of like romantic. I think of Radio Tehran as like the Iranian The Cure. Kiosk reminds me of an Iranian Tom Waits or something. I know I wanted them and I knew those guys so I knew their music right away. Then I knew each character had a different feeling. The pimp had this dirty crunchy techno and that’s my friend Daniel Brandt from Germany, a track of his. And then Federale that makes this awesome spaghetti western kind of music is like the musical spine of the film. I also met Collin, he’s in The Brian Jonestown Massacre and it was right when I was putting together the film. I was telling him how I was making a vampire western and he’s like. "I have a side project that’s spaghetti western music." So it was like this perfect meet-cute. Then the White Lies I didn’t know so I had to find them and seek them out. But I knew it had to be that song. It was that moment, which is the moment of the film, the moment of love, it’s nostalgic. Almost like a John Hughes feeling. It had to be that song so I just got their manager.
So that’s the way you approached it? You had the movie first, the genre in mind and the music you wanted?
When I wrote the script it would be like "and then like Black Sunday plays and the montage goes like this." I’m thinking of how to put together the film, almost like I’m scoring the film to the music. As opposed to the reverse, which is what most people do. For me the music is a huge part of making the landscape. I had it all in the script and made sure I had each song so that by the time I was shooting, well before shooting, every single person involved in the film had the soundtrack. It just became very clear what divided rhythm and anytime a song played in the movie, which was pretty often, it was played on set. It’s it’s own character in the film.
It seems to effortless. Despite the clear influences from other directors in your film, how have you handled people like me hounding you and telling you things like, "This is a clear David Lynch or Tarantino influence."
Those are great because they actually are. I’ll say one thing about David Lynch because my heart beats very fast for him. I feel so many feelings for him. I think he’s a magnificent creator and I’m extremely inspired by him and he’s a hero in a way, but of course your heroes influence you in some way. But you can’t emulate a David Lynch film or his way of doing things. Because his films are like his own brain caves and are very specific. It’s more him being so open with himself that inspires me. I feel like he’ll explore the darkest corners of his brain caves and I want to do that with mine. And there are different stuff in mine, but I think he might be in mine too. But Tarantino for sure. And a lot of people said Jarmusch. I’m not very much into Jarmusch. I did like his vampire film very much.
"Only Lovers Left Alive!"
That was such a cool movie. But the Jarmusch films people are referring to are early back and I never got into that stuff. For this film, I was specifically looking at three films in the beginning that I was talking to everybody about, which were "Rumble Fish," "Wild at Heart" and "Once Upon a Time in the West." And actually a lot of others. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," just westerns. I love westerns. "Gummo" also. "Gummo" is one of the most important films of my life. I can remember it with an unnatural clarity, everything everybody says and does in that movie.
Clearly with all these influences — and you’ve said this in interviews I’ve read before — how do you go about people saying things like "this is a political film" or "this film is a queer film?" You’ve said in the past that you’re just making the films you want to make.
I think what’s interesting about the questions are even though you don’t have the answers when they get asked, you’re still forced to think about the questions. So let’s say there’s a question I don’t feel like answering. If I keep getting asked it, I’m going to have to think about it. I think it’s interesting for my own brain to find—rather than shut down and say "fuck these questions." Just to keep thinking of it and find my way around it and what’s happening and why it’s being asked. Really what it comes down to is like a song, a piece of music. A film is something for each person to interact with. You might not like a certain song or you might love it and want to hear it over and over again. Really, your interaction with it says more about you than it does about me. Like the song "Hello" by Lionel Richie. Do you love that song?
I like it.
Yeah me too. Do you know who Lionel Richie wrote it about or anything about it?
No. I just like the song.
Right. You can still love that song. I just find it interesting that filmmakers are sometimes expected to give certain details or explanations for things where I think it’s meant to be experienced like a song, in a more emotional way that’s personal for the person seeing it. A film is a mirror. It’s going to show you more about you than it is about me. I think it’s also interesting that people think, from watching the film, that they might know me. They might know certain things, but I think that’s interesting. You probably know me more though because Twitter is my own thoughts.
I was going to bring that up. The movie doesn’t really have a time period. It could really fit in a huge scope of time. I don’t think technology… that sort of interaction doesn’t plays a huge role. But in your own life, you seem to be a very active social media person. Is that something you considered when making this movie. Or something you want to consider for the stuff you work on in the future?
A film can be like a dream. It’s a fairy tale. It’s not beholden to rules or laws of the real world. I have no loyalty to the real world. Fuck the real world. Why would I make a film to try and show you what it’s like here? It’s what we get everyday. I think it becomes about things that are romantic and interesting to you, to me. So yeah it’s definitely out of space and time with a logic that a dream would have, which doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of physics, you know? There’s so much weird shit in your dreams.
You’ll be in your dream and you will see an alligator wearing a fur coat and it makes sense. You’ll have the most bland reaction to it. Stuff like that. The dream just has to be consistent to itself.
Going on that, this may be dumb, but why did you want to make this sort of movie? Was it this sort of dream?
Making movies in itself is an interesting thing to want to do. I think of myself more in terms of anything else as an inventor. I feel like I relate more to Doc Brown in "Back to the Future" and he’s like this crazy hyper-spastic excited man, who’s mostly alone in his—wait you’ve seen "Back to the Future?"
Yeah. Of course.
Well I met somebody recently who hadn’t. And I was so sad. I wanted to go run into traffic. Cool. But yeah he’s just this manic excited man and he’s got his ideas and things he wants to see. And I feel like that more than thinking of it in terms of a filmmaker. I guess I want to do that. I always did. Invent this thing that people can interact with and experience. I want to find stuff inside myself and take it out and look at it and see what is there.
With "Girl" I know I was definitely thinking about loneliness. I have a very intimate relationship with my loneliness and I like it a lot, I love it. I think it’s very misunderstood. Some people think it’s sad and it can be in a romantic way, but solitude and loneliness are some of the most useless stuff. Vampires are the loneliest types of characters because they have all this time and only themselves. It was really about that. And also with loneliness, you have to know that most human interaction isn’t really meaningful. It’s kind of a robotic, habituated thing. Automated responses. And it terrifies me everyday. I fall into it. I go get my latte and do my whatever stuff. I’m not free of guilt or whatever, but it’s all so terrifying and I feel like making a film—because you are creating something that means something to you because it’s from inside yourself—you pull these people in who you carefully find and choose to come on this vision quest with you inside your own brain matter. It’s very intimate. And super meaningful. The creating part is so important and it gives me people. It makes friends.
The whole process is the project in itself.
Yeah. That is it. That’s exactly right. The results you could never know or predict. And the minute you start thinking about the results you leave yourself. That whole thing of "my solitude is so great." That’s what’s interesting about drugs, you fully go into a present moment in your own mind, your thought process on a subatomic level. I don’t like how people are in American film culture asking "Who is the audience?" Or “What’s it going to be like? Will people like it?" I don’t know. I’m not about that stuff.
I wanted to ask you about the drugs. This film has this brain-altering quality.
That’s cool! I dig that.
Yeah. It brings you into this different type of consciousness. You sense that even not being on drugs, but also when the characters are. Is this something that you were cognizant of when writing this — that you wanted to capture a sort of other worldly experience?
No. No way. I don’t think so.
Well, no one can capture a drug experience, it’s different for everyone, but—
I think a film is an altered state. It’s not reality. It’s like a magic portal into something. It’s like you leave your world. Like what is a dream? What is all this time we spend every hour doing? If we added it up, the math of it, how much time we spend dreaming is more than anything else. Like what’s going on every night when we are all sleeping? It’s crazy if you really think about it. And the world and life of a mind is crazy stuff, man. I was talking about time and a certain presence. It’s harder and harder in the natural, normal, robotic, habituated world to get that. I get it when I dance as well. With dancing and music I’m very in myself.
There’s something super serialized about "Girl" too. You already have a comic book adaptation of the film, but would you ever consider TV?
I would love to do TV. TV seems to be expanding in really cool ways. There seems to be exponentially unlimited potential.
Your city in the movie is like a "Twin Peaks."
That would be amazing. Why not man? That sounds amazing. It’s more about being able to have control over my own self. As long as it was somewhere where they creatively really want to let you launch off and be your freaky self. I literally can’t change. This is the freak that I am. I really can’t be useful to anybody. It would be like telling Doc Brown to calm down and go into an office and do things in a certain way. I have to be alone to do my own thing. It depends on the network and the situation. If they really let me do my own thing. I don’t know how they are. The TV that I like–
What do you watch?
I love "Game of Thrones." Hmm. What do I like right now? Is there anything other than "Game of Thrones" on right now that I like? I watch "Girls" sometimes. I don’t really relate to them, but I keep watching it. Adam Driver is really exceptional. I loved "The Sopranos." I loved "Twin Peaks." I liked "Dexter" in the first two seasons. The third season was good with Lithgow! What else is on?
Everyone says "True Detective" in interviews.
I didn’t care that much for it. I thought it was cool and different. "Friends," I love. I tend to like sex and violence. It would be amazing. I was just wondering, how cool would it be to do something animated? You have no limit. All this supernatural stuff would be so easy to do.
And were you happy with the indie process? Would you want try blockbuster studio films too?
I don’t know that the struggle of making an indie film is equally comparable. When I look at the stories and struggles specific to a big budget system, it seems horrific to me. Getting all these people to do all this stuff, to get two hours of a movie. Even if it’s a bad one. It’s hard. I don’t think it’s ever not hard or a struggle, but that’s not even the point. This whole blockbuster or budget thing doesn’t really make any sense to me. Think of a chef who cooks at some restaurant you know in some neighborhood — and it’s so good, you love that chef and you go there and it’s crowded and everyone that knows, knows. It would be like taking that chef and putting him in the Cheesecake Factory. You would never want to see your favorite chef cooking at the Cheesecake Factory.
No. Although in a way they could do better at a Cheesecake Factory than someone else. You see all these acclaimed indie directors taking on blockbusters. Like with Christopher Nolan and "The Dark Knight." This "new dark superhero movie" that everyone talks about.
"The Dark Knight" wouldn’t exist if "The Matrix" hadn’t been made and "The Matrix" wouldn’t have been made if "Blade Runner" hadn’t been made and "Blade Runner" wouldn’t have been made if "Jodorowsky’s Dune" hadn’t been made.
By the way, your Jodorowsky shirt is incredible.
Really? Thank you. I was like "I need Jodo today." I don’t know. At the same time, if there are going to be big blockbuster movies I’m happy to see freaking "Gravity." You know that dude making a film like that.
Would you do it?
Again, for me it all becomes about how much movement I have. I can’t be constricted. I’m doing my next film, I’m shooting it in the spring and it’s with people I absolutely love. They want me to be as freaky as I want to be. I have control of all the parts. I’m happy to be in that situation. It’s not about if it’s this much money or that much money, you adjust yourself to what you’re doing. You see "Apollo 13?"
They are like "these are the things. You have to make this fit to the thing to get the Co2 level down." You don’t have infinite things. You have to be creative with what you’re given. I like that. I think creativity thrives under limitations. I think you also have to vet yourself and get yourself there. It’s not something that would happen instantly. When I think of Tarantino, he did his thing in his own way and kept it in his own way in a funnel until he got where he was working Brad Pitt and a $120 million dollar budget. That’s a lot of money. Another thing about these films, it becomes three to five years of your life. Do I really want to suffer? What’s the point? It’s gotta mean something to me. Give five years of my life so at the end it’s something I don’t even recognize? I wouldn’t know what it would be like to get paid 10 million dollars though. It’s hard. I don’t think you ever fully know until you’re into the situation, but a couple of months ago someone came to me about doing "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4" and it would have been with a studio. I said no, but I was flattered that they asked. And I was like "I like where your head is at." At least they kind of put me—it’s not really what I would do, but I was glad to be in that wrong assumption. I was like "Ok thank you, but no."
Tell me about this project you’re working on.
"The Bad Batch." It’s in color and in English. I’m very excited about it. It’s a desert set, post-apocalyptic cannibal love story. It’s kind psychedelic. It’s kind of like if "El Topo" and "Dirty Dancing" had a baby and it was very violent. It would be this.
This is what I read about you wanting Jennifer Lawrence. You said that at Sundance.
Did I want her? Oh yeah, I said that. Honestly, that was at Sundance. I’ll preface this by saying that Jennifer Lawrence is like the best young woman acting that I know of. She’s outstanding.
Yeah. I don’t get the hate she gets.
I don’t even. People are awful. If you read YouTube comments you’ll see why people are awful. But yeah she’s a movie star and I don’t want that. It takes over. I don’t think any one person should be the star. I think the film is the star. If you get someone like that, it could shift everything you are doing. I don’t want that. But I did have a fantasy of it at one point. But I’m going to make my own thing. You’re going to like this one. It’s fun. It’s savage and romantic and violent.
What else could I ask for?