Putty Hill [DVD]
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Following the failure to find funds for a small feature about metal heads, Matthew Porterfield corralled his already cast actors into new roles for the quickly pieced together Putty Hill. With a shoe string budget and a low key vision that blends vérité naturalism with fictional characters, Porterfield has crafted an unconventional depiction of hopelessness that feels more real than many documentaries. Putty Hill is a suburban tragedy that lives not only within its young stars who remain disconnected from their closest friends and relatives, but throughout all of small town America.
A young man – a brother, friend, son, former inmate, addict – has recently passed away from a heroin overdose, and the subsequent funeral has brought the people that knew him back together. No one is surprised by his pitiful demise. No one seems to have really cared one way or another about him before his death. Even his own mother wasn't sure where he lived or what he was doing. Everyone reacts in their own way, accepting the circumstances, and realizing the regret of never really getting to know their passed love one.
Minimalism is hard to get right, but through Porterfield's quiet meditation there is profound depth to be found. Without being told up front that Putty Hill is a fictional film, it would be really hard to tell that it isn't a doc. It's characters are interviewed by an off camera voice who asks about their relationship to the deceased, and their thoughts on his life and death. All of them seem unrehearsed, mumbly, and genuine. Occasional off kilter subtitles are used when a tattoo gun overpowers the human voice. Even the intimate and rarely moving camera work feels very authentic in its capturing of the film's stream of non-events. Within this sequence, a building sense of lost potential permeates each of these Baltimore suburbanites, and it feels all too real.
Cinema Guild has put together a dual disc edition for Putty Hill's DVD release. The film's natural settings and dimly lit interiors look good in SD. Characters' faces have decent detail and a wholesome color palette. The soundtrack, like the film overall, is minimal. Ambient natural sound is prominent throughout, creating a strange, unnerving vibe. The first of the two discs contains the film along with a thorough commentary with Porterfield, director of photography Jeremy Saulnier, editor Marc Vives and producer Steve Holmgren. There is also a set of deleted scenes, a variety of screen tests from the abandoned Metal Gods project which served as the inspiration for Putty Hill, a 30-minute making of doc that feels a lot like the film, and a trailer. The second disc contains Poterfield's first film, Hamilton, which chronicles the life of two young parents over the course of two days. It's immediately obviously that the films are the product of the same production team. Along with the second film, there is a set of deleted scenes, an interview with Porterfield done by Richard Brody at UnionDocs and the trailer. Along with the films comes a beautiful booklet with essays by Andrew O'Hehir and Richard Brody. Both discs come packaged in a standard DVD case.
For many people, Putty Hill will be quickly off-putting. It has very little in the way of plot, it's structure is unconventional, it's pace is incredibly slow moving, and it's characters are introduced and mixed with the rest without really ever returning to focus on them. Despite it's sparse presentation, the film's message is clear and deeply affecting. Porterfield has crafted a film that bleeds honesty and realism, but lives in a fictional world with tales about veritable people. Putty Hill is highly original, but harsh in its open eyed depiction of downtrodden reality.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: November 8, 2011