I love L.A., to quote Randy Newman. I love the music. I love the stories. I love the history, its good and bad.
When I was married, my wife and the Princess and I would often head out to California to visit my sister-in-law and her husband. For the most part I enjoyed those experiences very much, though to be fair, the last family trip, as we were nearing the end of our marriage, I was definitely a grump and not a treat to be around. But I like to think that was more of a blimp and doesn’t sum up all the prior experiences.
The first time my ex-wife and I went out to visit the family, they were living not far Sunset Boulevard. We could walk from their apartment to Amoeba Records. My brother-in-law took us to the top of the Capital Records building. We saw a movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and took a double decker tour bus. We walked the streets and though I’d been to L.A. before, this was the first time I’d felt I’d really seen it.
On our later trips, we would stay with the family in Silver Lake, considered by many a hipster locale not too far from Los Angeles and Hollywood. I remember the architecture vividly, the vibe. Coffee shops, a lot of them. A small, nice and expensive comic book shop where I bought a hardcover copy of The Incal. So many memories. All of which came rushing back to me this weekend as I watched David Robert Mitchell’s film Under The Silver Lake.
Mitchell first got everybody talking a few years ago with his second film, It Follows. A horror film with a seductive synth score, it had fans raving, including former Biff Bam Poppers Luke Sneyd and Amanda Blue. The film didn’t really do much for me, and I recall thinking, “what am I missing here?” But we move on, accepting that no film will work for everybody. It’s a sentiment that Mitchell’s latest is receiving throughout the film community.
Under The Silver Lake stars Andrew Garfield as Sam, an unemployed man with an interest in code breaking and conspiracy theories. One night he meets a young woman named Sarah (Riley Keough) who lives in one of the apartment units in his building. They clearly hit it off but when they make plans to meet the next day, Sam discovers that Sarah has disappeared and begins obsessively trying to track her down. His investigations leads him into a world of conspiracy theories, pop music, drugs and debauchery.
Sounds like California, right?
Under The Silver Lake is one of the most captivating films I’ve seen in a very long time. It defies easy categorization; I’ve seen it labeled as a crime noir/comedy; that isn’t inaccurate, though I think calling it comedy implies hearty laughter, which there’s isn’t much of. For me, the whole time I was watching I kept thinking “this is a trip,” and that sentiment sticks with me hours later. It’s surreal and at times psychedelic, so “trip” could reference the obvious drug connotations. But Under The Silver Lake is also a L.A. experience, a travelogue moving through neighborhoods and experiences so unique to that environment.
Andrew Garfield carries the film on his shoulders, and does it very well. There’s a wealth of emotion delivered, from aimless ennui to seething rage to horrified realization when Sam’s suspicions of a world underneath the one we live in are confirmed. How much you enjoy Under The Silver Lake rests heavily on how much you can buy into Garfield in his role; for me, clearly he delivered.
I’m of the mind that Under The Silver Lake works best depending on your own personal connection to not just its environment, but to its frequent reference to conspiracy theories. I love those sorts of stories and ideas – the moon landing, programming, and the like. Writer/director Mitchell hits on some of those with a skill that suggests that even if he’s not a believer in any of the theories, he’s certainly well versed in their lore. Especially in the (ridiculous) theory that a man named Theodor Adorno from Britain’s Tavistock Institute was responsible for composing all of the post-1967 music of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In what may be the most memorable scene in Under The Silver Lake, Mitchell plays out this idea in a confrontation between Sam and a man known simply as Songwriter (Jeremy Bobb). These 6 minutes are worth the price of admission alone.
Mind you, with a two hour and twenty minute run time, some might find Under The Silver Lake too long, too impenetrable. For those that fall under its spell, you may wind up feeling that time passes a little too quickly. The movie feels like a personal work, a love letter to everything good and bad about a city that draws so many people to it; then again, that could just be because of my own loves and biases.
Like I said, I love L.A. And I loved Under The Silver Lake.