Add Under the Silver Lake to the Ready Player One, Shazam cycle, though it scoops up all pop culture rather than just movies or strip cartoons. Not that movies and strip cartoons are left out.
Andrew Garfield’s mum is a Janet Gaynor fan sending him the7th Heaven VHS that we see, along with him watching the star’s flower vase painting and finding himself at her grave marker - the way Black Dahlia uses The Man Who Laughs.
This is De Palma world. We get Hitchcock’s tombstone. The makers are big on Marilyn Monroe too with the clip of How to Marry a Millionaire and its action figures, or Riley Keough coming out of the apartment block pool looking naked, posed like the incomplete Something’s Got to Give footage. They even generate their own bogus indie Harmony Korine movie with the on-screen girls part of the main film personnel.
Comic books also do get a central spot with Patrick Fischler (memorable in Mad Men) as the zine artist whose work they represent in uncredited Frank Miller like animation (director Ryan Spindell who is in the titles as graphic designer?)
Up market porn is a keynote with Garfield’s dad’s Playboy magazine still used for his masturbation routines.
In with these,Under the Silver Lakeis foremost a Los Angeles film where Garfield wanders through the noir enigmas like Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep or Jake Gittes in Chinatown. They use Griffith Observatory, seen in La La Land and Rebel Without a Cause which they cite with the James Dean statue.
Their L. A. is a place of abusive derelicts and dangerous crazies next to immense wealth channeled into what may or may not be blasphemous perversion. While it’s very specifically located the film does make off with elements of Taxi Driver’s New York and Vertigo’s San Francisco - notably in the scoring of the opening.
Bubbling round in this sea of references and associations is a traditional plot that takes unpredictable turns. Garfield is a remarkably inert hero who at thirty-three is making no effort to sort out the situation that has eviction notices tacked on his door and repo guys after his car - the car on which small boys scratch a penis on the bonnet before Garfield catches a couple and beats them up.
His favorite pastime is laying back among his balcony plants and watching the neighbor do topless housework with binoculars until the more fetching Keough and her little dog show up. L.A. is in the grip of a series of dog killings which seem to be part of the plot until it turns out they aren’t. Garfield carries round dog biscuits to attract the pooch and its owner who is offering casual sex but gets sprayed by a skunk and can’t get rid of the odor.
However next day the cops are putting yellow police tape over Keough’s door and Garfield sets out to find out what happened to her, tracking through a rave party event where admission is by a dope laced cookie that makes him throw up (lots of loo time in this one) and the entertainment includes pricking the balloons on the outfit, that Grace Van Patten dances in, with pins supplied by the door man.
That’s just the start in a two hour twenty movie where the length contributes to the hypnotic effect or would if they could sustain the invention which is one of its assets. There is still time to go skinny dipping with the missing tycoon’s daughter in the reservoir that contributes the film’s most striking image - the one they use for the poster - along with grubby Homeless King David Yow (alarmed by Garfield’s dog biscuits) taking him blindfolded through hidden labyrinth L.A. which corresponds to the areas for which there are no Google satellite maps. We recognize Bronson Canyon where they used to shoot the serials
There’s a pop group called Jesus Christ and the Brides of Dracula whose e.p. our hero plays backward to get the information by using code breaking techniques, in tandem with Callie Hernandez’ steel bracelet and the secret treasure map in Fischler’s old cracker box. We have a Wizard of Oz sequence (deliberately awful glass shot?) where our hero traces the hidden messages all around him to murderous song writer Jeremy Bobb who has to be dispatched with the late Kurt Cobain’s guitar.
This is all accompanied by dope taking, booze and bare assed people. The star is in there doing his bit and Bobbi Salvör Menuez as a wannabe actress doubling as a call girl makes a particularly vivid impression.
Director David Robert Mitchell (the admired It Follows) is serving up something we may not have seen in movies before but it still comes from the city of La La Land, Sunset, L.A. Confidential, The Man With Bogart’s Face, Sunset Boulevard, Hail Caesar and so many more.
Under the Silver Lake seems to be struggling to find an audience which is a pity. It deserves to be seen on the big screen.