29 March 2011

Putty Hill

Written & Directed by: Matthew Porterfield
Full credits at IMDb

Putty Hill revolves around, but is not about, the death by overdose of a 24-year-old; the movie doesn't engage with such sensational plots: a group of teens in the woods stumbles across federal marshals hunting a bank robber, and they just laugh and walk away. Instead, writer-director Matthew Porterfield looks in on the lives of those who survived the addict; the movie is about them, as it sketches a bare portrait, retracing the dead man's steps, finding the empty spaces—and people—he left behind, from his beer-soaked karaoke funeral to the bare, flashlighted house where he died. The movie seems looking for a ghost, though, that doesn't exist: Putty Hill is a search through emptiness for something, for anything, that finds only nothing.

It's structured like a documentary portrait, but of fictional characters; the director emerges unobscured by artifice, directly questioning the characters when he's not simply watching them go about quotidian routines: it's like he's catching fictional characters in the usually ignored spaces between traditional scenes (like Gus Van Sant in Elephant), ignoring most of the surrounding drama. It's set in Baltimore, but looks an airplane's ride away from The Wire's innercity Bodymore—it looks like the rural South—yet it shares many of the same problems: drugs, crime, unemployment, ex-cons, ennui. Moving through houses whose walls stand undecorated, Putty Hill is infused with a profound sadness, and a spiritual emptiness, crafting not just a regional portrait but an eerie and somnolent picture of a whole Lost Generation. Grade: B+

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