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Sunday, 15 May 2011 00:00

It’s an Uphill Struggle to Enjoy a Visit to "Putty Hill"
Written by Diane Carson
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With an improvised, documentary feel, writer/director Matt Porterfield's Putty Hill presents the gathering of friends and relatives for the funeral of 24-year-old Cory. Never condescending to the poor, largely uneducated residents of the Putty Hill section of the Baltimore area, Porterfield becomes a fly on the wall, occasionally asking questions from off screen. It's alternately illuminating, say, and incredibly boring.

Though Cory's death from a heroin overdose is the occasion for the characters' musings and interaction, Cory himself appears only in a photo at his wake. Haltingly and often inarticulately commenting about Cory are, among others, his brother and his sister, a cousin and his grandmother, junior high school friends, and his cellmate in prison. But unlike Akira Kurosawa's brilliant Rashomon that provides profound insight into the subjective interpretation of events based on one's status in society, Putty Hill meanders aimlessly. Or if it is astute in its revelation of this disheartening environment, and it may well be, it presents its ennui through its own tedious accumulation of mind-numbing scenes.

Putty Hill opens and closes with shots of Cory's empty house, not just empty because he's deceased and gone but devoid of furniture and the kind of trappings that define a home. The first active scene is a paintball game. It and a visit to a skateboard park provide the most energetic moments in the film, of which there are few. Instead, emotional and physical torpor dominate. One of the few employed men is Spike, Cory's cellmate, a tattoo artist who explains matter-of-factly that he went to jail for second degree murder, having killed the man who raped his pregnant wife. Confrontations between Spike and his daughter who's returned for the funeral bare the sad, lack of anything approaching a constructive relationship between them.

Shot in twelve days with nonprofessional actors, Putty Hill aspires to a poignant reality of lower class lives. But its torturous pace and rambling conversations undermine its attempts to elicit empathy. All I could muster was a sigh and a wish that these folks could pull themselves together.

At Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 20th through Sunday, May 22nd. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or you may go to the web at: series.

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