If there ever was an American independent film that needed your help, it’s “Putty Hill,” Matthew Porterfield’s contemplative, exquisitely lensed snapshot of working-class white America on the fringes of Baltimore. With a sensitive, emotionally truthful grasp of its characters and nary out an ounce of condescension, “Putty Hill” paints a delicate picture of grief and waywardness in a small community. Not since Lance Hammer’s “Ballast” can I think of an American indie that so deserved to be seen on the big screen.
With excellent reviews (it seems Time Out NY critic David Fear’s lone dissent has lowered the film’s Metacritic rating), “Putty Hill” will need to do more to bring in an audience. And smartly, this weekend’s New York opening will play host to numerous guest speaker lead Q&As, from Kickstarter’s Yancey Strickler (today at 5pm) to “Tarnation’s” Jonathan Caouette (at 7pm) to critic Richard Brody and filmmaker Amos Poe (on Saturday) to Jem Cohen (on Sunday), and after-parties on Saturday and Sunday nights. For independent filmmakers looking to create an event around the release of their films, it’s the way to go. And for the communal sense of Porterfield’s milieu and method, it only makes sense.
Writing for indieWIRE (The Sticky Music Rights of “Putty Hill”), I singled out the tricky music rights debacle that held up the finished film, but I also want to emphasize the style and sense that the film presents.
Inspired by Martin Bell’s seminal 1984 documentary “Streetwise,” Kent MacKenzie’s 1961 neorealist “The Exiles” as well as the work of Jean-Luc Godard, Ulrich Seidl and theater director Bertolt Brecht, who all mix realist and formalist techniques, Porterfield says his priority was always to capture the lives of the people in the impoverished neighborhood of Baltimore’s Putty Hill with as much honesty as possible. “I was much more focused on my subjects and was interested in stories from their lives, and honoring them, and treating them with respect,” he says.
The film deserves the same treatment in the marketplace..