Daily Archives: September 25, 2022

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

*. I really enjoyed Under the Silver Lake, though I feel guilty saying that.
*. I think my guilt arose from a sense that it was a good-looking, meaningless tease that works hard to give the impression of being about something deep or important or serious, of having “something to say,” when it really doesn’t. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s anything under Silver Lake. But it’s still a lot of fun just for its aesthetic-intellectual veneer.
*. It’s beautiful on the surface. Huge credit to cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and production designer Michael T. Perry for creating such a fantastic alternative L.A., with locations ranging in their fancifulness from Sam’s enormous apartment (which looks the size of about three L.A. apartments in such a complex) to the Songwriter’s San Simeon/Xanadu. The camera seems in love with all of this, from tricky long shots like the entry to the club where the girl is singing to the magical walk Sam (Andrew Garfield) and Millicent (Callie Hernandez) take by the mesh fence around Silver Lake. The lighting on the fence is truly beautiful, turning the fence into a glowing membrane separating us from dreamland.
*. A movie that looks this good could get by just on being so nice to look at. But the design and the colour and the way the camera moves are only parts of what is an elaborate striptease. Now a striptease is fun as it happens, and that’s really the whole point of it, but should we be disappointed at the payoff here, the absence of any final reveal?
*. Because I don’t think Under the Silver Lake makes any sense. People, including some of the people involved in its making, testify that there’s much more going on here than can be deciphered in a single viewing. Or even multiple viewings. I’m sure that’s true. Perhaps if you play the parrot’s squawk backwards it’s actually saying something. But these hidden correspondences are just more layers to be peeled off the onion without taking us anywhere aside from the basic idea, common to such plots since the 1960s, that we have a need to find pattern and meaning in a world that we perceive to be increasingly chaotic and meaningless.

*. I see Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 as being the ur-text of this kind of story, and while Lynch is the obvious comparison to make for this movie, I still found it more Pynchon than Lynch in that it more directly interrogates conspiracist thinking and theories. There’s been a multiplier effect though in these kinds of fantasies given the reach and intrusiveness of the Internet, and Under the Silver Lake offers up a warren of rabbit holes to duck down. But do any of them connect?
*. I’m sure connections can be drawn, but they remain tenuous at best. I was left having no real idea what the Songwriter was up to, how the Owl’s Kiss fit into things, or what Sam’s relationship to his ex-girlfriend signified. The idea that billionaires were being buried alive in the Hollywood hills with nubile lovers was something I couldn’t understand the point of. The Comic Fan (a wonderfully creepy Patrick Fischler) seems to have some vision of how all this fits together, but he’s not talking.
*. Wasn’t there something just a little sexist in the way all the young women became indistinguishable and were treated as props to be dressed (or undressed) in creative ways, by both the men and the movie itself? I don’t usually call movies out for this, but here I was wondering if it was deliberate.

*. So nothing added up for me. Perhaps there was an explanation for it, but writer-director David Robert Mitchell (who did It Follows) isn’t going to tell us what it is. Just for starters, what exactly does Sam do, or even want to do with his life? Has he come to L.A. to make it as a musician? Is that something he’s working at? How long has he been coasting before getting bounced from his huge apartment and having his sports car repossessed? I guess none of that matters.
*. I don’t know if Mitchell, who I think is one of the most impressive new talents going, had a point, buried it too deeply, or just wanted to have fun playing with the whole ball of yarn. What is expressed, I think, is less a search for meaning in modern culture than the desire to somehow establish that all of modern culture — the pop songs, the video games, the magazines — isn’t just a crushing waste of time and bottomless pit of shit, like the full toilet bowl we stare down in one scene. You can indulge in that kind of fecal haruspicy if you want, but isn’t that a hole you’d rather not go down?
*. Despite my reservations I think Under the Silver Lake is a terrific little movie and comes close to being a great one. A big drag on it though is Garfield, who looks the part but just doesn’t sound right. He may be even more miscast here than he was playing Peter Parker, and the character is just a little too shallow to relate to as well. At least I couldn’t figure him out. My sense is that at the end he’s on his way to becoming a new version of the Comic Fan, and that he might just be OK with that.
*. If the whole thing was meant as a parody of a David Lynch movie, which it may well have been, it might be enjoyed on that level. Even at 140 minutes it doesn’t feel long. But I was just there for the striptease. Does it all add up to anything but a pile of discarded clothes? I didn’t think so, but that doesn’t bother me.