It scares me how many films are produced each year. What’s ever scarier is that, out of the 366 I need to watch throughout the year, this is a mere fraction of what is out there left to explore. Oh well, I guess I’ve got my whole, hermetic life ahead of me to worry about getting round to see them all.
Amongst all those films, there’s always a few American indies that crop up each year warranting appraisal from the industry’s best chin strokers. They really are great at it. This year, it was the turn of Matthew Porterfield and Putty Hill.
Silly putty it certainly isn’t, this low budget feature packs a realist punch. Using a faux, fly on the wall documentary style, Porterfield presents a provincial, fragmented family in disarray after the death of a son called Cody. Rather than allowing for melodrama, as the story permits, the ninety plus minutes unfurls delicately. By no means inert, with an offscreen interviewer/filmmaker, the film is sinister, intrusive and voyeuristic; delving into unkept family treasure chests and forgotten secrets, all the while not without a whiff of incestuous undertones, of course. This, combined with an impressive amateur cast (most notably James Siebor as Cody’s brother James) means that the film flitters by, but manages to keep you unsettled and interested all the while.
Perhaps as the warrant for its success, it has met comparisons with Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone from 2010. Whilst both films deal with complex family relationships in the midwestern American Heartland, Putty Hill is a far less imposing film, and perhaps less entertaining too. With it’s patient portrait of the strange, idiosyncratic family connections, Putty Hill is so laid-back that you are close to falling over the sheer vacuity of it all, or lack thereof. A difficult film to watch, purely for the patience needed to get on board with it. However, if and when you do, the film has a lot to offer, even in its coldness.
Chin strokers unite. Stroke chins, then stop and wait for the next indie flick to pop off the American-made conveyer belt. Repeat as necessary.