Particularly in the early going, Matt Porterfield’s Putty Hill is
rather similar stylistically and tonally to Richard Linklater’s early 90s
breakthrough indie production Slacker. Essentially it assays a bunch
of short, gritty vignettes with random people going about their daily life.
Periodically some will be interviewed by an unseen filmmaker. Others will
not. They are doing things like playing paintball, singing karaoke, getting
tattoos, skateboarding, swimming, watching TV, drinking, talking, walking,
driving…. You get the idea.
this works wonderfully to build a portrait of a community. (Linklater’s
film was about Austin, Texas. This film is about the titular working-class
suburb of Baltimore.)
However, Slacker continued on its mostly random way throughout – the
characters rarely had much in common other than a community. Putty Hill
eventually doubles back on certain characters and a vague plotline
emerges (more a situation, I suppose). Putty Hill looks at the
neighborhood as everyone is coming together for the funeral of a 24-year-old
ex-con who died of an overdose.
Literally dozens of characters flit in and out of the film in these short
vignettes – family, friends, girlfriends, friends of the family,
acquaintances, fellow ex-inmates, essential strangers.
becomes something of a double-edged sword for the film. It gives you a
wonderful sense of the community, but at the same time the movie never
settles on any of the characters for long enough for you to get a real
handle on them.
fact, with so many characters showing up in short little spurts – all
portrayed by completely unknown actors (only Sky Ferreira has any name
recognition at all, and that is as a singer, not as an actress) – it is a
bit hard to keep track of who everyone is: what their relationship is with
each other and the dead man.
Honestly, the reaction to the man’s death seems to be rather muted – even by
his family. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be just a reflection that
this guy’s eventual death was sadly predictable, but his sister seems to
feel sort of inconvenienced by going to the service, his brother spends the
day before the funeral playing paint ball and even his mother never once
cries. Truth is the most emotional reaction to his death seems to be when
his grandmother refuses to go to the funeral because she wants to remember
things as they were.
prefer to believe this is due to numbness on the characters’ part rather
than indifference – but this is never really made clear.
in a very nice touch, when the eventual funeral happens it is more of an
Irish wake. Everyone congregates at a local bar, talks briefly and
inarticulately about the guy, then drinks, dances and sings into the night.
It seems no one really knew him very well – even
those who loved him. We never get to know him at all, we just see
one very unrevealing
photograph of him at the ceremony.
the meantime we get little glimpses of lots of other lives – a tattoo artist
trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter, an ex-con trying to go
straight, four girls living in a dumpy apartment and local kids hanging out
at the skate park and local swimming hole. Life in Putty Hill seems to be
mostly made up of boredom and desperation.
all very realistic. Much of the dialogue was improvised, giving the speech
a very natural feel, but also a slightly imprecise and meandering feel.
However, that is always the problem with ad-libbed dialogue – the immediacy
is usually worth the price of the occasional awkwardness as long as the
actors have the improv skill, and for the most part the cast of Putty
Hill does have this talent.
filmmaker, Porterfield has a wonderful visual eye and a nice, gritty feel
behind the camera, but all things considered, Putty Hill feels a bit
too disjointed to be completely satisfying. Then again, you could say that
about Slacker, too, and Linklater has since gone on to make some
truly great films including Before Sunrise, Dazed & Confused, School of
Rock and Before Sunset. I hope we get to see where Porterfield
can take us from here.
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: February 12, 2011.