LA Noir

David Robert Mitchell is an American-writer director who made his feature debut in 2010 with The Myth of the American Sleepover. He followed it with the highly acclaimed horror It Follows in 2014. His latest movie, Under The Silver Lake, stars Andrew Garfield as Sam, a Los Angeles slacker who sets out on a weird and wild journey when his female neighbour unexpectedly disappears.

ASFF: Under the Silver Lake seems to owe a great debt to the work of Thomas Pynchon. Is that the case?
DRM: I wrote this in 2012. I remember sharing it with a good friend of mine who said, ‘You’ve read a lot of Pynchon, right? It feels very Pynchon-esque.’ And I said, ‘No, I really haven’t. I’ve always wanted to read Pynchon, but now I’m not going to do it until this movie is totally done.’ And it wasn’t long after, I remember hearing that PT Anderson was doing an LA noir based on a Pynchon novel [Inherent Vice]. And I was like, ‘I’m not gonna be able to make my movie.’ And I was really upset about it. At that point, I’d really had set the script aside.

ASFF: What changed your mind?
DRM: Eventually when Inherent Vice came out, I went to see it at the theatre, and I loved it. I saw it like twice in the theatre. But I also felt, ‘Oh, you know what? This is different enough.’ There are certainly similar threads and similar themes and elements. But I felt OK going ahead and making this film.

ASFF: The film has a real fever-dream quality. Do you feel that?
DRM: I can tell you it felt like I was in a fever dream when I wrote this. I mean, I wrote it in a month and I was pretty much just writing obsessively, sharing pages with my wife at the end of each day and we’re just sort of laughing about it and I was drinking tonnes of coffee and I was definitely in a bit of a different state of mind, writing this thing. It was good to get out of it. It was like, ‘OK, I’m done. I can go back to normal.’

ASFF: Andrew Garfield’s character Sam is a big Nirvana fan. Is that a personal thing?
DRM: That’s a personal thing that I put into it, yes. The film is dealing with American icons. We have the Marilyn [Monroe] reference and we have a Kurt Cobain. It’s these people that carry this deep meaning with them. With Cobain…even in terms of making records that were purchased all over the world, there’s still something so genuine within that art. I mean the fact that you still see young people walking around, who probably weren’t even alive at the time, wearing Nirvana shirts. And so it represents something. It’s the question of: ‘Do you believe in love and art? Or do you believe in money and power and comfort?’ And that’s the question.

ASFF: Is this is a film with a lot of red herrings or are the answers all there if you look hard enough?
DRM: There are some things that may be unknowable and then there are many things that you might feel are not clear, but if you look hard enough you might find some real answers.

James Mottram

Under the Silver Lake is released in cinemas and streams on MUBI from 15 March. For more details, click here.