Putty Hill (2010) Poster


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Junkyard dogs
This is a drama about a wake that's kind of coalescing just after the death of a young man from an overdose. The cast includes ex-cons, skate-kids, dropouts, long-suffering retirees, generally low status folk sat on the sidelines of modern America doing their own thing. It's shot well enough that it looks like a documentary even though it's not. Lots of folks are interviewed about the dead guy and end up having a karaoke wake. The guys in the movie seem pretty anaesthetised most of the time, they're just trying to get along, and take things as they come.

There's some nice stuff, including a memorial graffito sprayed as we watch, of the words Rest in Peace spelled out on three Japanese bridges that look like they could come from a Monet painting.

At the end the film unfocuses on a road scene (an old trick) and you get all theses spheres of coloured light dripping across the screen. Like I say, an old trick, but it's done well here, and the unfocus is meaningful for this film, as the folk we see try not to focus too much, for example they go paintballing a week before the service, they just get on with it and don't mope. The wake at the end is actually fairly moving, and fleshes out the film a lot, adds meaning to some of what you see beforehand.

I have a lot of love for this film, and I can see what it was trying to do, it's grown on me a lot since the night I watched it.

I must warn you though that some shots are held for too long, and I'm a guy who likes long takes, furthermore there was a spalling walkout, which quite astonished me, probably the first time I've seen it happen in a film which wasn't violent, overtly sexual or confrontational. In fairness the film was shown quite late at night, and folks may well have seen several films beforehand and been tired (this was film #4 for me of the day at the Edinburgh International Film Festival).
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An Incredible, Exciting Film from a New Director
sc_hijinx7 November 2010
Putty Hill did everything right.

I'll skip any in depth discussion of formal excellence -- real critics like Roger Ebert and Richard Brody have already said much about that -- and just say that almost every shot, every element of the film is fantastic. Porterfield has a great instinct for composition, for length of shots, for what to focus on and what to leave off the screen. He introduces a few unique elements, including a lot of lingering shots away from prevalent dialogue. The visual style alone is reason to see the film.

But it's not the most important reason. Putty Hill accomplishes something very, very exciting on the level of the heart. In a brief Q&A after the film screened, Porterfield was asked about his decision to shoot the neighborhood and people he did, rather than any of the "shine" that the city of Baltimore has. Porterfield answered that it was part of where he came from, and that he saw it as an ethical responsibility to represent the working class in a moderate, non- sensational light. Much more than something like The Wire (or, say, Winter's Bone, another contemporary film with a similar focus on devastated, poor working class America), Putty Hill does not exploit poor, mostly "white trash" (as one British writer called them) characters, does not sensationalize or wring out their dire situations in hopes of creating great drama. The film is stark and realistic, but the treatment of characters is sympathetic. This is not a film that tries to shock the viewer with a saturation of hyperrealistic details about "what life is like on the other side" of the poverty line: it's not all drugs and violence and grime. Instead, Putty Hill is a film that shows a group of people living their lives just as they know how to. Sure, some things are dark, some things are gritty, some things are sad... but on the other hand these are people, like anybody, with great capacity for love and understanding.

Putty Hill is the greatest current example I have seen of art treating the lives of the working class with both realism and respect. It's not coddling, it's not political, it's not a shock piece. The camera rolls, and what we see is Life, with all of its imperfections, problems, and beauties intact.

When this accomplishment of subject is combined with stunning formal elements, what results is one of the most exciting, important films I've seen in years.
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Interesting format to portray people around a funeral, but I badly missed interesting contents
JvH4821 October 2011
I saw this film as part of the Ghent filmfestival 2011. My reason to book this film was its original format, as could be derived from the announcement. The latter also contained a bold reference to a film that I much admired: Winter's Bone.

To start with the reference to Winter's Bone: the resemblance proved to be literally superficial. I refer to the looks of the people, their houses, and the way they live in general. Main difference with Winter's Bone is that nothing really happens in Putty Hill. We witnessed a series of empty dialogs, starting with How Are You, Good, etcetera, but ending soon after that with nothing important to remember. I know these opening lines are standard, but what followed after that remained nearly empty.

It all did nothing to tell us about the deceased, other than an OD. What his relationship was with the interviewee, was also left unclear. Other than bare facts as being a relative or a school mate, it revealed nothing about how they got along, and whether they saw any pointers leading towards the OD. This utter lack of information was intentional, and meant to be the core of the message (as I extracted from the synopsis): no one knew the deceased very well.

A technical fault that I observed several times, was the background noise with some of the interviews. It made it hard to understand what was being said. This cannot (and should not) be intentional.

After 1 hour the interview format is dropped. We see two real-life scenes that make this film a bit interesting, one before and one after the funeral. We observe how the funeral worked out indirectly on people standing by. It was clear to me that it was rather the atmosphere around a funeral that triggered the emotional outbursts, and not because of some good friend died.

The funeral after-party between these emotional scenes was a bit interesting, mostly while being different from what we here (in The Netherlands) are used to do around a funeral. A large photo of the deceased was prominently visible. Alas, neither the photo nor the speeches revealed anything further about him. And the nightly visit to the junkie's former house also failed to reveal something interesting; it left us literally in the dark.

I've seen some positive reviews about this film, but I don't get it. For the public prize competition, I marked it with a 2 stars (out of 5). The actual contents deserved 1 star, but the original setup worked a bit to compensate. It may encourage the film makers to repeat the process, at which time they should take a subject where people show more substance. And finally, before I forget it: thanks for the live demonstration how graffiti is produced.
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Skirting the fringes of Baltimore
hudsonwa13 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A junkie's house, a boy's death. Girls smoking in the woods. Cops on the hunt for a bank robber. Grandma is a good egg. Tagger – "Rest in Peace, Cory." A girl comes home to her estranged father's tattoo party. A karaoke wake. Visiting a dead brother's junkie lair at night. All he kept was his skateboard. The friendship of girls.

Putty Hill in the Northeast of Baltimore is both urban and bucolic. A filmmaker was working a coming-of-age tale about a group of metal-heads skirting the fringes of Baltimore. It was a timely script, but financing fell through. To rescue the work of everyone involved, he shot a new film in 12 days.

A triumph of salvage. Not to be missed.
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you feel the summer heat
cekadah16 December 2012
can't dislike this odd movie! again as i stated in another movie, "bad posture", the viewer is taken into the lives of these lower working class people. you share their feelings, what they see, their thoughts, etc. my favorite scene are the girls in the house. they have too much time on their hands and quietly talk among themselves about nothing in particular while lounging on a rather very used mattress.

the one scene that i found confusing was the angry girl yelling at her father. there just wasn't enough buildup to support her reaction. plus we know nothing of her life in Delaware. so all we have is a frustrated girl taking it out on her father - she never really knew him! but with that issue aside the entire film is very 'artsy' and i'm using that term as a compliment.

in my worthless opinion the director pulls his intentions off very well because the feel, look, sound, pacing, attitude of this movie is consistent. bravo!
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Pure drivel
onceo10 April 2011
Saw this at the Charles recently. The reviews really had me excited. After watching it I remembered why I don't normally listen to reviews.

This film is mundane. Wide shots for much too long and poor sound quality.

After the film a friend and I debated whether films like this are highly rated by reviewers because they see so many films that ANYTHING new seems exciting or breath-taking. Or if it's "The Director's New Clothes." I take the latter position. A case of wasteful film making. Setting a camera down and watching amateurs entertain the monotony of life day to day isn't a fantastic new cinematic experience. It's tedium.
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A Worthy and Interesting Failure .. Here's Why, Exactly
emvan27 January 2013
A young man dies of an overdose. The day before the funeral, someone unknown (not necessarily a documentary filmmaker) asks his family members and friends about him, and about their lives, and we see small pieces of their everyday activities. That's actually, I think, a terrific idea for a micro-budget indie film.

And in fact I was prepared to love this movie. I have no problem with slow and/or "plotless" movies (see my most-useful review here of Greenberg) and I've adored many art-house movies with relatively low IMDb ratings. Even more promisingly, the film's two greatest champions have been Roger Ebert (only **** review at Metacritic) and Andrew O'Hehir of Salon (author of the DVD booklet essay)--and I think they're unquestionably the two best critics in America.

So what went wrong? Why did I give this movie a C+ grade and a 4/10 (equivalent to a 5 or 6 for most other graders, I think)? It's the cognitive psychology of the storytelling (yes, I'm the guy who has been threatening to start a blog called "This is Your Brain at the Movies").

Human brains are storytelling machines. We edit and re-cut our memories to make better stories than the actual reality. I'm sure that most people reading this above a certain age can think of a story they've told about themselves that they later discovered (by reading an old letter or journal entry, etc.) wasn't quite right or true, that had been turned into a *better, more dramatic story* by their brain.

Narratives in fiction have traditionally been these kinds of stories (call them Stories with a capital S). A relatively recent and, I think, tremendously admirable goal of cutting-edge narrative has been to get past Stories and give us true stories (with a small s) -- to show events as they really happen in life, with all their actual messiness and lack of cohesion. And note that while real life may not have capital-S Stories, it still has small-s stories. There are still events that cause other events. They just form a less satisfying pattern than we remember.

The trouble with Putty Hill is that it is so insistent on avoiding Story that it actually goes out of its way to avoid (small-s) story, too. It is, by turns, unrealistic and manipulative in avoiding story.

One of the points director Porterfield wants to make about the deceased Cory is that he's essentially a cipher that no one knew well. But no one interviewed about him talks about him as real people would talk about someone they knew, no matter how remotely. And that's because we remember people most vividly not by generalities, but by *anecdote*. There isn't a single anecdote told about Cory. In fact, the only information we get about him beyond his drug problem comes from fellow skateboarder Cody, who tells us that Cory was terrific ("insane"), but in any kind of real life, this assertion would be followed by "there was this one time where Cory ...". Because the generality is derived from specific incident, from anecdote. Fifty years from now, it's possible (though still unlikely) that Cody may remember only that he thought Cory was "insane" without being able to remember the stunt that made him think so, but two or three years later? No way.

The film is also manipulative in its selection of information. If you've interviewed the brother of one of (if I got this straight) Cory's cousin's friends, who admits to barely knowing Cory, you really have to interview Cory's mother. There's a point in the film where this is obviously coming next, but then it doesn't happen. (Since all these interviews were apparently improvised, my guess is that it was shot, but then was decreed to be not worthy of inclusion. If so, Porterfield should have realized this during the shoot, and asked for another take.)

I would have loved a movie where everyone who knew Cory told their favorite anecdote about him, and the anecdotes *failed to congeal as expected, and failed to reveal anything about him.* You would have created an expectation in the viewer that these anecdotes would at least paint a coherent portrait, and might even reveal a secret, discernible only to us who had heard them all. Defying that expectation would have made a terrific point about the difference between Story and mere story, would have shown that many lost souls remain unknowable no matter how much we learn about them. (And if you've read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and/or "Seymour: An Introduction," you know exactly what I'm talking about.) We would have gradually realized that the secret being revealed to us about Cory was that there was, sadly, no secret to reveal. But making Cory unknowable by not providing us with a realistic amount of information about him is, to me, profoundly unsatisfying.

(I'm both a psych major and a bit of a theorist about narrative, so I find it credible that all this might strike me as grossly unrealistic while not striking the likes of Ebert and O'Hehir that way. But based on the IMDb rating distribution, I think there are many other viewers who liked many of the art-house elements, but had the same or similar problem, even if they couldn't put their finger on what exactly was missing.)

It seems likely that this movie will remain a favorite of a small minority of smart viewers but remain unsatisfying to the vast majority, everyone, that is, who demands at least small-s story from a film that purports to be naturalistic. In the meantime, I'll be watching Porterfield, because he's a real talent. He just needs a better understanding of story, and a better grasp of his own stylistic strengths (see my message board post on that).
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Bad Story...Just pure garbage
kubatica12 June 2019
I usually don't turn off movies, but wow. WOW. who ever came up with this story should not be in the business. Stop wasting peoples time and find something you are good at, definitely not writing!
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Friends and family gather to mourn
michaelRokeefe9 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Putty Hill is a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore. The economic downturn has really hit the city hard and Putty Hill has all but turned into a skid row. Most of the young people of the area have little ambition or future to speak of. News travels fast when a young man is found dead in a vacant house; he is the victim of a heroin overdose. In spite of not being known very well, family and casual acquaintances gather for a modest funeral. The day before, young people wander the popular hangout spots and reflect on their tragic loss.

Director Matthew Porterfield filmed over just a few days and relied largely on improvised interviews for this disjointed project. You really have to be in the proper mood to garner anything redeeming from PUTTY HILL. Singer Sky Ferreira is the only actor of note. Others include: Cody Ray, Zoe Vance, Walker Teiser, Catherine Evans, Virginia Heath and James Siebor Jr.
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Home movies of other people's boring relatives?
mike-nissley10 January 2013
This film has: no plot; countless, pointless, extended shots of virtually nothing happening (a guy getting a tattoo for ten minutes, a girl crying on a dark porch for eight minutes, people swimming and smoking weed, people with nothing to say driving around in the dark, etc.); no character development; and apparently no script. Take a camera, go to a poor neighborhood and film the most boring people you can find sitting around doing nothing, and you can personally recreate this waste of time disguised as film making. Apparently, this guy had $50,000 on hand to accomplish this feat. What? The backdrop for the end credits is actually more interesting than anything else in the movie (which is why I gave it a 2 instead of a 1). Well paid critics apparently like the novelty of seeing what poor people do all day, but for those who already know, this is utterly pointless.
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Drivel 2.0
andrew-kasten26 February 2015
If you accumulate all prior reviews that have rated this film 4 out of 10 stars or less, then you'll gather enough eyewitness testimony from those of us who are now miserable, poor saps who were so misfortunate to have been subjected to this train wreck of a film -- a very slow-moving train wreck. Sound editing and general editing are performed with such cluelessness that you feel confident this film can serve as a guide on how not to make a film. I like slow-paced films when they have vision and substance and POV, but when there's no cement or glue to the story...to keep the narrative and plot moving somewhere, then you have problems. Lots of problems. Acting is fine. Writing and direction is beyond problematic.
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What is the point???
stubtoes942 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Wow! Help me somebody! I had no idea boring could go on so long. I have yet to see the point of this movie or is it a documentary? Scenes that were overshot and entirely too long. The sound was awful, I rewound several times to try and figure out what was said. The main character who over dosed is obviously as insignificant as all the other people in the town. It was one boring cigarette smoking person after another (when they weren't smoking weed). Cigarttes must be 10 cents a pack there because everybody smokes and smokes and smokes. Can you say lung cancer.

I have yet to get the point. Obviously the film maker was getting off on carrying around a camera and having people ask him if he is making a film. He may have potential, but he needs to save it for when he has a real story and not this ongoing ingrown toe nail.
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