UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
PHOTO | VENDIAN ENTERTAINMENT
I wonder what Sam Spade would make of Andrew Garfield’s character, also named Sam, in “Under the Silver Lake,” a deeply self-aware, slacker-noir misadventure that proudly proclaims its many references, homages and sources in Old Hollywood and pop culture. I’m not a detective for noticing this film’s resemblance to David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” or Howard Hawks’ “The Big Sleep.” In this film, characters actually lean against the gravestone of Alfred Hitchcock, and the Hollywood sign looms large at all times.
Sam is no detective either, but he finds himself pursuing a mystery that takes him, literally, deep beneath the pop culture dream factory that is Hollywood, and he learns about the dark forces behind what most people consider mere entertainment. “Under the Silver Lake” is a weird, funny mystery that interacts with all of its cinematic forebears to weave a yarn about power, corruption, paranoia and the anesthetizing effects of entertainment.
Garfield is our shaggy, stoned guide on this mysterious journey to the underworld, and it can’t be an accident that a nice young man who once played Peter Parker is now a frequently pantsless, unemployed guy who gets sprayed by a skunk and spies from his balcony on his topless older neighbor. He is a millennial Philip Marlowe, who finds clues in the issues of Nintendo magazine that he has saved since childhood, and breaks secret codes on a greasy pizza box. We rarely saw Humphrey Bogart in his detective incarnations without a jacket, let alone without his underwear. This is new territory, but built on the detritus of the past. There’s not a character who doesn’t have a movie poster from an old movie framed on the wall, intentional signifiers of who they are.
When Sam spies an unknown young woman, played by Riley Keough — who is in real life a descendent of none other than Elvis — he is smitten, and once she lets him inside her apartment, her film obsession turns out to be “How to Marry a Millionaire.” Without spoiling the labyrinthine plot, this film is a major clue to her life. She soon vanishes, leaving behind only a hobo sign painted on her apartment wall, and Sam’s attempt to find her leads him to cemetery film screenings, concerts, parties, art installations, underground bunkers and more.
Deepening the David Lynch connection is the appearance of actor Patrick Fischler, who always brings an element of the uncanny to his performance, and stands out in one of the most frightening scenes in “Mulholland Drive.” He plays a conspiracy theorist and comic-book artist, who draws a zine called “Under the Silver Lake,” which explicates arcane connections between unsolved murders and long-held myths, like a murderous naked woman who wears an owl mask and an ongoing dog killer. He has a vast collection of casts of famous faces hanging on his walls, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Johnny Depp.
This is a long, weird movie, startlingly explicit at times, but oddly, and I do mean oddly, affecting. Sometimes the answers to its questions are kind of stupid, and the resolution is not as satisfying as we might deserve after watching old Spider-Man connect the dots for so long, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the rambling journey. Some of the women were underserved, even though the mistreatment of women by Hollywood is a running theme of the film itself. “Under the Silver Lake” is worth watching, and maybe rewatching, with enough sex and giggles to sustain a confusing plot, and it might have a future as a cult classic, which would be a fittingly ironic state for such a self-aware movie about movies.
“Under the Silver Lake” is currently available to rent.
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