We join Putty Hill just after the accidental death by overdose of Cory, a 24-year-old Baltimore native with a sprawling, white trash family who are all about to come together for his funeral.
Using a cinema verite style, we gradually build up a picture of a well-liked boy claimed by the pervasive drug culture of his home city, for whom a term in prison became a self-imposed death sentence.
We meet his funny elderly grandmother, his devastated aunt, his emotionally closed-off tattooist uncle and their damaged teenage daughter, as well as various sisters, cousins, Cory’s ex-cellmate and more. All are interviewed in a documentary style, while action takes place in scenes that will feel familiar to any viewer of modern reality TV. We feel as though the ‘documentary-maker’ has simply captured these moments, which have occurred naturally through the interactions of the characters rather than having been plotted with a careful hand.
While the atmosphere of Putty Hill is beguiling, and the cinematography brings out the beauty of each faded piece of rubbish that litters every scene, it did drag a little as a film without seeming to reach much of a point. Local actors fill most of the roles, aside from a hopefully starmaking turn by up-and-coming popstrel Sky Ferreira. She is at the centre of the best, most emotionally honest scenes, and gets a chance to show off her pipes in a karaoke performance of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ at the dead boy’s wake.
The use of local actors, and what seems to be a considerable amount of improvisation in the dialogue, adds to the sense of reality that filmmaker Matt Porterfield is trying to create, but by concentrating so hard on ‘truth’, he may have lost his way when it comes to actually making a movie. Meandering and beautiful, Putty Hill treads a fine line between poetry and boredom, and is as likely to land in one camp as the other.
Monday 21st June, 20.00, Filmhouse 1
Tuesday 22nd June, 19.30, Filmhouse 1