Dramatic Underscoring is our regular column by Marcella Hemmeter reviewing soundtrack albums from movies current and forgotten. This edition covers 2014's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
You know what’s better than a great vampire flick? A great vampire flick with a killer soundtrack. That is exactly what you get with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014). Cherish that 2xLP release from Mondo if you picked it up last year. It is pure magic.
The movie is about a Girl, a lonely chador-wearing vampire who likes music, scaring local residents, and skateboarding in a fictional Iranian town called Bad City. It’s also about a guy, Arash, yearning to break out of this wasteland, away from his junkie father Hossein, and cruise in his prized ‘50s Thunderbird. Filmed outside Bakersfield, CA, you’ve got a black-and-white film, characters speaking Farsi, and some crazy graphic novel version of what a small industrial Iranian town would look like in a modern-day spaghetti western that has a vampire as dreamed up by filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour. Think power plants, deserted streets, fields of grasshopper oil pumps, and a ditch full of dead bodies.
It’s obvious Amirpour gave a lot of thought to the music used in the film. From the western stylings of Oregon band Federale, whose compositions are meant to evoke memories of Ennio Morricone-scored westerns, to Iranian rock bands Radio Tehran and Kiosk, this eclectic mix of rock, electro-pop and Middle Eastern fusion brings the listener to a place both dark and atmospheric, emotional and cold. It opens with the carnival-like “Charkhesh E Pooch” by Kiosk, immediately establishing this other-worldly space we’re entering where classic cars, drug dealers and users, prostitutes, and others both living and undead come together. When Farah’s “Dancing Girls” begins, the seductive synths are sparse and bleak, and we recall the Girl dancing by herself, slowly and deliberately getting ready for the night’s hunt. The music shifts on side B with the cold techno of “Bashy” by The Free Electric Band, heard when we see the Girl answer the amorous attentions of a drugged-up pimp with cold violence.
The kicker is a memorable sequence paired with the song that starts side C; the movie is worth it for this scene alone. The Girl puts on a record (yay records!) while a high Arash lies on her bed. “Death” by White Lies begins playing and at first we’re taken by the sweeping synths and driving beat, listening to the song with the Girl and Arash, then Arash comes to her and we wonder if this is the moment she reveals her true nature and bites him but she chooses not to. The song speaks of fear and longing and her restraint is equally telling. Then there’s “Chesme Man” by Dariush which kicks off side D and may bring tears to your eyes (it does to mine). It’s an old Iranian song and laments a lost love who will never return, especially moving and appropriate in the scene where Hossein, who has never gotten over the loss of his wife, seeks comfort with a prostitute (or attempts to); it reminds me of the old boleros my grandfather would sing along to after indulging in one too many. Another highlight is “Yarom Bia” by Kiosk, heard when Arash wordlessly puts on a cassette in his car, deciding to continue driving with the Girl away from Bad City, having a better idea of her killer nature yet still has no clue of what she really is. The main refrain loosely translates to ‘come my dear’ and has a great electro beat, giving an impression that all will be well between them which may or may not be wishful thinking. Either way, it’s awesome how the soundtrack ends with this ride-off-into-the-sunset track (“Tribe” by Federale) which featured in the film trailer. We can imagine our protagonists driving off into some dark distant place where her vampirism doesn’t matter and her desire to eliminate men who hurt women is dormant (or at least tolerated). It could happen, right?
Fun, ethereal, dream-like, the listener will get many things out of this album. Listeners are helplessly and willingly drawn into this fantastical world, understanding that it’s the mood that matters. Best heard at night, turn up the volume and immerse yourself.
Playlist (two tracks not available on Spotify so I made a playlist of the ones I could find)