Dance+: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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Dancing home alone before going out to do what vampires do. Ka Bradley on a moment of dance in the movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

A girl dances… home alone… at night… [scene from Ana Lily Amirpour's 2015 vampire film]

In Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novel about a seductive female vampire, Le Fanu’s innocent girlish narrator describes Carmilla:

She was slender, and wonderfully graceful. Except that her movements were languid – very languid – indeed, there was nothing in her appearance to indicate an invalid.

Ladies with languor return in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Lucy Westenra, drained night by night by the bloodthirsty count, eventually succumbs to death and undeath, and her vampiric corpse entices her former fiancé in a graveyard:

She still advanced, however, and with a languorous, voluptuous grace, said, ‘Come to me, Arthur.’

Lazy, lucid languor, at once sensual and mocking, is the lascivious heart of a female vampire’s physical appeal. But these examples, from nineteenth century male writers, are tinged with a voyeuristic eroticism; in Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2015 vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the vampire – only ever identified as The Girl – dances with a languor that is private, self-possessed and, above all, coolly disinterested in the viewer.

The Girl lives in a basement flat, its flaking walls plastered with the faces of rock and pop stars. The Girl may need blood, but she loves music (a deleted scene from the film sees her lying, fully clothed, on her bed, next to a young man named Arash; they reel off the names of their favourite musicians, eyes dreamily fixed on the ceiling). This scene catches her in a quietly ecstatic, languorous celebration of a song, Farah’s ‘Dancing Girls’.

The camera bounces gently as it zooms in on The Girl, giving the impression that we are actually walking towards her. But The Girl doesn’t look up or even flinch. Her chin is tucked in, looking down – she is not here to seduce us. Her neck rolls and sways. She moves with the sinuousness of a creature stirring from a long sleep. Body, hips, neck and arms, drift and fall. Each arcane loop of wrist or ribcage curls back towards her centre, the silent heart that is given over to the music. Her dreamy almost-saunter has no outward destination. Every roll of her shoulder – long, long rolls that draw curving lines across the screen – every gentle bob or slouch is the manifestation of an interior exhilaration. They are like waves from an enormous sea crashing on a shore; we do not know the depths of the sea but we note the foaming on the beach.

The Girl doesn’t meet the face of the camera until the hypnotic synth cuts out and Farah starts to murmur over the percussion. Deliberation starts to steal into her movements as she lines her eyes with kohl and blocks her lips out with lipstick (though she still drifts with a languid vagueness that sees her overfill her upper lip). The inward celebration has come to an end, and she has to go out into the night, to do the things that vampires need to do at night.

Theme: Dance+
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