During a 2017 interview with Berlinale Talents, 40-year-old writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch) described the year after she had graduated from UCLA as disempowering. Amirpour was married at the time (i.e., 2009). She had written a script. She had landed an agent and a manager, both of whom had access to major studios and A-list talent. First gate cleared, Amirpour felt validated. Only then it became apparent Amirpour’s management team wanted to turn her into a product. They wanted to steer Amirpour by insisting on extensive rewrites to her screenplay. The goal became money, unimpeachable money, onto a point where Amirpour no longer recognized what she was doing. Disillusioned, Amirpour cut ties with her management duo, and then she filed for divorce. She moved to Berlin where she could “hear [herself] again,” and then she began to reestablish herself via a variety of video shorts.
This is the artist’s path. Avoid attachments. Pursue fresh forms of reinvention. It flies in the face of consumerism, if not capitalism. We, as Americans, have been hardcoded to ride for the brand, to seek fulfillment by way of belonging. But what if we could instead become more open? What if we could become more like receivers, consistently dialed in to emerging signals? What if we could create great art based on distortion? This is what resides at the heart of “Ride It Out,” a 10-minute video short Amirpour wrote and directed in conjunction with the Netflix anthology series Homemade. The series, which debuted this past summer, features standalone episodes made during isolation that were directed by Kristen Stewart, Paolo Sorrentino, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and several others. Amirpour’s installment represents the series finale, and rightfully so. There isn’t any other episode that is even in the same orbit.
“Ride It Out” follows Amirpour as she bikes around Los Angeles during the early days of the lockdown. Cate Blanchett functions as the documentary’s narrator, and she assumes a tone that pivots between a dystopian fairytale and an animatronic vignette. “Everyone is home. Everyone is avoiding the virus,” Blanchett informs us. Then in come the soft woodwinds accompanied by percussion. Today is May 15th, 2020. Mostly sunny. And the LA streets appear deserted. Wilshire and Fairfax. Melrose and Curson. “DON’T TRIP,” a plain-white billboard reads. “NO FATE BUT WHAT WE MAKE,” a marquee outside The Theatre at Ace Hotel suggests. We are voyeurs, and we are being ushered along by airborne drones and street-level cameras. “Art, in its simplest terms,” Blanchett theorizes, “is just a way to force a new perspective onto something familiar.” Thus, the reason so much art has been concerned with processing euphoria or deep sadness. This is how Lou Reed’s Magic became Lou Reed’s Magic & Loss. This is why the three-act structure has always been resigned to either comedy or tragedy. This is life and life is HBO. Life is Dr. Melfi telling Tony that “depression is rage turned inward.” Life is Bunk Moreland saying that a man must have a code. (and Omar Little responding with, “Oh, no doubt.”) Life, in general, is bound to present us with some curveballs. “Ride It Out” submits that those curveballs represent an opportunity to create.
Consider the early months of the pandemic, when Americans found themselves dealing with a lot fewer distractions. Artists including Bob Dylan and Fiona Apple made the most of that by rush-delivering completed albums. ESPN pushed up the release date of its Chicago Bulls documentary, The Last Dance. Zoom started booming. Backyard TikToks kept going viral. The zeitgeist had taken on a DIY ethos. Somewhere in the middle of that, Ana Lily Amirpour took a ride on her bike. Amirpour had no way of knowing that she would be documenting the moment before the moment (i.e., a moment less than two weeks before the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, an event that touched off a string of nationwide protests, resulting in widespread chaos and looting). Come the beginning of June, entire blocks throughout Greater Los Angeles had been decimated, with neighborhood businesses either busted out or vandalized beyond reopening. “Ride It Out” preserves the LA boulevards as if they were set pieces … awash in gold with shades of purple. Given the unprecedented summer that Southern California just experienced – a summer marked by wildfires and COVID amid civil unrest and an ongoing stream of companies shutting down – “Ride It Out” seems even more affecting now than it might have when it was originally released a few months ago. Great art is occasionally the beneficiary of changing circumstances over time.