Putty Hill ~ (USA, 2010) ~ DVD

This indie film which was an official selection of the SXSW Film Festival in 2010, is one of those murky, cross-bred films that blend documentary style structure and fiction. The story, with its cast of characters is largely improvised from a basic script, but features the director as an off-camera interviewer of the characters. When a young 20-something od’s in a scruffy Baltimore neighborhood, acquaintances gather to attend the funeral. The narrative is set the day before and the day of the funeral, and the film opens with a paint ball game.

Family members come in from out of town. There is hanging out, skateboarding, BMX-ing, swimming in the backyard above-ground, swimming at the local swimming hole, a visit to the local tatoo parlor, a little dope smoking, a visit to the grandma’s retirement home. At most of these venues, the director gives us glimpses of the friends and families lives.

Mostly they had all lost track of their friends life. He kept to himself in the final months as the friends and family try to understand what went wrong. Their conversations (prompted by Director Matthew Porterfield) tell us more about the lives of the ones left behind, than they do about their friend. Living at the edge of Baltimore, at the edge of the poverty level, these are people left behind. Truly. Two of the girls who knew the boy find his house at night and slip in through a window. They sit awhile. Smoke a cigarette and try to make sense of it all.

We send young lives off to war to die, and they die – comforting their friends and families with the self-assurance that they have not died in vain. There is no such hope here. With a sobering realization that their lives are virtually pointless, their deaths will be the same. These are the forgotten, the left-behind, the sub-class. They will come and go, leaving no memorials behind.

The wake is in a karaoke bar, with a few speeches, a few beers, a few heart-felt karaoke songs, and a dance by a large man in a full white beard. The camera catches the framed portrait of the young man, a vase of flowers beside. This image moves in and out of the cameras frame. Credits roll.

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