Almost everyone hated David Robert Mitchell‘s Under The Silver Lake when it played at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It was soon after reported that A24’s original 6.22 release date had been scuttled in favor of a 12.7.18 opening. That too was abandoned. Mitchell’s meandering noir is finally opening today, but without any cuts at all to the original 139-minute length. The thinking last summer was that A24 had almost certainly asked Mitchell to go back to the editing room and tighten things up, and perhaps even do a little re-shooting. Nope.
I’m sorry but David Robert Mitchell‘s Under The Silver Lake (A24, 6.22) is mostly a floundering, incoherent mess. Yeah, I know — Mitchell wanted it to feel this way, right? Ironically, I mean. Confusion and mental haziness are part of the impressionistic thrust.
It’s pretty much a textbook example of what happens when a gifted, financially successful director without much on his mind…this is what happens when such a fellow comes to believe that he’s a version of Federico Fellini in the wake of La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2 and thereby obtains the funds to make whatever the hell he wants, and so he decides to create…uhm, well let’s try an impressionistic fantasia dreamtrip about L.A. hipster weirdness and…you know, dreamy fantasy women with nice breasts and impressionistic effluvia and whatever-the-fuck-else.
Two hours and 15 minutes of infuriating slacker nothingness…everyone’s vaguely confused, nobody really knows anything, all kinds of clues and hints about seemingly impenetrable conspiracies involving general L.A. space-case culture, bodies of dead dogs, cults, riddles and obsessions of the super-rich.
It’s basically about Andrew Garfield absolutely refusing to deal with paying his overdue rent, and neighbor Riley Keough, whom he tries to find throughout the film after she disappears early on, doing a late-career Marilyn Monroe with maybe a touch of Gloria Grahame in In A Lonely Place.
Under The Silver Lake is Mulholland Drive meets Fellini Satyricon meets Inherent Vice meets The Big Lebowski, except Lebowski, bleary-eyed stoner comedy that it was, was far more logical and witty and tied together, and with an actual through-line you could more or less follow.
I felt the same kind of where-the-fuck-is-this-movie-going? confusion that I got from Paul Thomas Anderson‘s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel of the late ’60s.
During the press conference Mitchell described Silver Lake as a “fever dream.” He said he wrote it fairly quickly, and that it began with his talking about his wife about “what’s really going on in those swanky-looking houses up in the L.A. hills?”
What happened, I suspect, is that Mitchell was given the freedom to make this free-associative catastrophe, and now it’s the new Southland Tales. I could be wrong but it feels to me like a complete bust, destined to become a cult curiosity and basically a non-hit among those whose speciality is adoring and championing films that don’t add up for everyone else.
Interesting cinematography by Mike Gioulakis and a generally approvable sense of visual unity and mood, but otherwise it just flails around, looking for footholds as it goes along.
I swear to God you can just tell that Mitchell had no real idea what he was doing when he made this thing.
I realized 15 minutes in that Under The Silver Lake wasn’t going to get its act together. I said to myself, “Oh shit…this movie has no discipline, it’s wandering for the sake of wandering, and who the hell makes a flick that partially focuses on some fiend killing dogs? Who the hell wants to watch a movie that’s partly about the mutilated carcasses of man’s best friend? And why the hell doesn’t Garfield at least try to raise the dough to pay his rent?
I could tell during the press conference that the numerous shots of gratuitous (but very pleasing) female nudity was rubbing “woke” critics the wrong way. “Why are there so many naked boobs and deep navels and smooth, sloping bellies and pear-shaped asses in this film?,” they were basically saying. “It’s exploitive to show that stuff now. It’s totally against the grain of #MeToo and #TimesUp.”
They were also basically asking him, “Why didn’t you foresee that #MeToo and #TimesUp would be a thing by the time that you finally unveiled your film, and that ass, boob and belly shots wouldn’t play all that well in this new political climate?
A friend saw a somewhat rough but close to finished cut of Silver Lake last November. Principal photography began on 10.31.16.
It’s a mess, it’s a mess, it’s a mess.
From “Beware of Late ’60s Curtain Hair,” posted on 5.16.18: “Earlier today I said “uh-oh” when I caught sight of David Robert Mitchell during a photo call before this morning’s Cannes Film Festival press conference for Under the Silver Lake. It was the middle-part hippie hair (i.e., Prince Valiant without the bangs) that gave me pause.
Any 2018 movie director wearing the same hairstyle that John Lennon had during the recording of “The White Album” or which Donald Sutherland wore during the filming of Paul Mazursky‘s Alex in Wonderland (’70) is basically saying “I’m off on my own trajectory…I’m following my muse, going with my process…I am who I am, and this is where I’m at, pretentious as this might seem.”
To me this indicates an attitude of undisciplined indulgence, which is what Under The Silver Lake is more or less about.