Putty Hill

Putty Hill


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Opening with the credits as Putty Hill does is an odd move, even archaic, but the art direction, sound, costuming and cast are worthy of attention. Where the film falters is in its script - while it says what it says artfully, even expertly, it never quite grabs, never quite draws.

In a suburban area of Baltimore a young man has died. His family and friends assemble and remember him. We watch them in shots that are beautifully composed: some with fixed angles that develop organically to compelling framing, and then wander on from there; others relying on the disconnect between vision and sound to produce dislocative, disassociative effects. That technical ability does not resolve the film's greatest weakness, that in synthesising drama with a documentary degree of verity it hopes that events as depicted will create story without ensuring that there is one to show.

Copy picture

There are powerful moments, but they pass without development, and while we gain a picture of sorts of the deceased we are far from knowing him. In comparison to Herzog's forensic depiction of the circumstances of a death in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? it falls far short, largely due to a lack of focus. The titular Putty Hill is a suburb of Baltimore, and this is at heart a suburban film - an artifact of culture, independent of reason and unhappily identical in places.

Matt Porterfield wrote and directed, and given his talent behind the camera he may work better with another's script. Apparently semi-improvisational, Putty Hill's full of moments where the audience waits for something to happen, but instead time passes. At one point a group encounters two plain-clothed policemen, submachineguns and zip-ties waiting, searching in some woods for a bank-robber. They go back the way they came, and that's it.

Sky Ferreira is good as Jenny, sister to the departed. Though central to events he is seen only once, a picture at the wake, and while we see many others they are often only glimpsed. The skateboarders, his family, all miss him in their own ways, but there's nothing revelatory here.

There may be something in the sense of waiting for something to happen, but as with Frontier Blues sometimes patience is not rewarded. For all its characterful moments - the wake with the Rebel Rousers Karaoke and DJ Service, the interviews direct to camera, the skate-boarders and the authentically clumsy speech making after the service which we do not see - there's not a huge amount going on. Mere existence does not in and of itself entertainment make, and for all its opportunities almost all of Putty Hill is aftermath, white space. While it's implying as much as it can as hard as it's able, it's not particularly special. It's insurmountably soft, in effect, never quite providing direction for all its style, slowly moving but never really getting anywhere.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2010
Share this with others on...
Putty Hill packshot
A troubled family is united by bereavement.
Amazon link

Director: Matthew Porterfield

Writer: Jordan Mintzer, Matthew Porterfield

Starring: Cody Ray, Sky Ferreira, Zoe Vance, Dustin Ray, James Siebor Jr.

Year: 2010

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US

Search database: