On Friday morning, with little fanfare, A24 announced that David Robert Mitchell’s sprawling film noir, “Under the Silver Lake,” would no longer be released June 22. Instead, it’s been pushed to December 7. Nor was the company interested in discussing the six-month time shift. A24 spokeswoman Nicolette Aizenberg only responded to our query with a cryptic email: “Indeed we moved the date.”
However, in a company known for smart and radical moves, this appears to be another one. Here’s why.
1. Cool Cannes reception
Mitchell had plenty of reasons to be grateful to the festival for supporting his first two films, “The Myth of the American Sleepover” and “It Follows,” which both played Critics Week. Positive reaction for his debut gave Mitchell the confidence to quit his editing job and focus on getting “It Follows” made. The festival “helped to make that happen,” he told me at an American Pavilion panel at Cannes. “No one would have helped me to make ‘It Follows.’ There was not a horror boom at that moment, nobody wanted to make horror. It was quite difficult.”
That breakout in turn gave him the momentum to finance passion project “Under the Silver Lake.” So Mitchell pushed hard to premiere the A24 release in Competition, which confers coveted auteur status. But he ran into mixed critical reaction at Cannes (Metascore: 59), and took home no jury prizes.
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Mitchell is not the first filmmaker to indulge his ambitions after a hit, nor is he the first to rush into Cannes half-cocked with the wrong movie: see Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny,” Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver,” Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives,” Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales,” or Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees.”
So, while A24 came to Cannes with a fresh work from a Cannes-approved budding auteur, it left with a tainted 139-minute experimental art film starring Andrew Garfield (still on Broadway in “Angels in America”) and Riley Keough, neither of whom made the trek to Cannes — and with just a month before the film’s opening. Nor could it justify the cost of a wide release, which can be a solution for a movie that lacks critical support.
Pushing the date allows A24 to support its filmmaker; whatever happens to “Under the Silver Lake,” it may want to do business with him again.
2. Go back to the editing room
When A24 pushed back the film, they pushed hard. Not only is it now available for the fall festivals (or is it? more on that below), but December 7 is in the teeth of awards-season primetime. This allows A24 to reposition its marketing, and gives Mitchell ample time to go back into the editing room to find a more accessible and commercial version of his movie.
Mitchell conjured a mystery unraveling throughout Los Angeles through the eyes of an aimless, off-kilter actor-voyeur (Garfield) who meanders around the city looking for answers. The script “was very much film noir,” he said. “The most obvious direct references and homages were ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Rear Window.’ It was an exploration of this dark and warped fantasy version of the world I saw around me. It’s going to disturbing places. It’s about movies and the city of LA and these strange contrasts: you have incredible wealth and fame as the city is constantly being renewed by people wanting the things people in the big houses in the hills have. Everyone I know there has felt the struggle, the conflict between love and art and wealth and comfort.”
His admittedly unconventional original script was 180 pages, he said: “I dropped in pictures while I was writing, video game maps, playboy centerfolds, vintage advertisements, all kinds of things to give a sense of the world.”
In the editing room, “we kept working on it and cutting things down,” he said. “It was a balance. It does take its time in certain places. There are these strange little sidetracks and diversions; it could have been a streamlined thing, but this was always about the branching paths, and so we were careful to keep a good portion of that. It was also a question of what was the main path. It’s a film of many questions and a few different mysteries.”
If the movie doesn’t turn out markedly better after re-editing, A24 also could try selling the film to Netflix, or to frequent partner Direct TV.
3. Skip the fall festivals
It’s likely that if A24 was aiming for an awards play, it would book the film on the fall circuit to build momentum. A December release date is usually reserved for movies that won’t be finished until then, and can stand up to the competition in the most crowded period of the year.
A24 could still decide to show the film at AFI FEST in November, but this move suggests the need to separate the movie from its initial festival response, as well as giving the filmmaker time to retrieve his best possible movie. There’s a good picture in there. I hope he finds it.
Additional reporting by Jenna Marotta.