Matthew Porterfield

"Hamilton" was Porterfield's first feature film

As someone who is used to viewing films with intricate plotlines and heavy character development, Hamilton, a film by Baltimore-based filmmaker, and Johns Hopkins professor, Matthew Porterfield, came as somewhat of a shock.  As Porterfield says himself, “ambient life, environment and soundscape, things that are in the background usually, are in the foreground in Hamilton.”  Indeed, plot and character, while certainly present, are not at the forefront of the film.  The dialogue is sparse; something Porterfield says was his way of circumventing his weakness in writing dialogue, and allowing him to capitalize what he felt were his strengths.  He noted that the Hamilton narrative was written almost as if it were a silent film and the dialogue was only added at the end.  While viewing the film, I was at first confused—I was so accustomed to watching films in which plot is the driving element, and where that plot is driven by dialogue, that I found it hard to figure out how I was supposed to receive Hamilton.  I very shortly broke out of this spell, however, and started to note the scenery and the sounds.  I focused on the way the characters interacted with their surroundings, and with each other.   The experience was quite enlightening. Robert Bresson, a French film director, writes in his Notes on the Cinematographer, that “one does not create by adding, but by taking away.”  Porterfield’s Hamilton is the embodiment of Bresson’s insight—the creative power of the film is derived from what is notably left out of it.

DVD cover of Porterfield's second feature, "Putty Hill"

Porterfield’s second film, Putty Hill, grew out of another project he had been working on, a film entitled Metal Gods.  Porterfield planned to produce Metal Gods, a script he co-wrote with Jordan Mintzer, as his second feature film.  After months of writing, casting, and preparing for the film, production came to a halt when Porterfield was unable to find sufficient funding for the project.  What came out of this misfortune, however, was Putty Hill, a film that, as Porterfield put it, was “informed by the economy of the shoot,” and borrowed elements from Metal Gods.  While Metal Gods was a fully scripted piece, Putty Hill was entirely improvised.  As Porterfield phrased it in an interview with Slant Magazine, the film is “about a community that comes together to commemorate the loss of one of their own.”   A defining element of the film is that the narrative is broken by direct camera interviews.  These interviews flow seamlessly from scenes in the story arc, and the function of these interviews of these interviews is never explained.  In an interview with City Paper, Porterfield explains that he feels this style “plays with the dialect between what’s fiction and reality and how much of what we’re seeing is true.”

For his next film, I Used to Be Darker, Porterfield ran a Kickstarter campaign for fundraising (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/puttyhill/i-used-to-be-darker).  The campaign was successful, accruing over $40,000 in support of the project.  Porterfield finished shooting I Used to Be Darker this past September, and the film is expected to be released in the near future.  More information on the film, and updates on its progress are posted on the I Used to Be Darker website (http://www.iusedtobedarker.com).

While we anxiously await the release of I Used to Be Darker, Porterfield already has thoughts of where his work may take him in the future.  He mentioned, for example, that he is interested in working on adapting a novel into a movie.  Whatever project he chooses to work on next, it is sure to be worth seeing.  As demonstrated through Hamilton and Putty Hill, Porterfield has a knack for producing works that are not only aesthetically and artistically moving, but intellectually stimulating as well.

— References —

Bresson, Robert. Notes on the Cinematographer. Los Angeles: Green Integer Books, 1997. Web.

D’Ambrose, Ricky. “Interview: Matthew Porterfield.” Slant Magazine. 17 Feb. 2011: n. page. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.

McCabe, Bret. “Matthew Porterfield.” City Paper [Baltimore] 27 01 2010, n. pag. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.

Porterfield, Matthew. “Visiting Artist Talk.” Baltimore Filmmakers 2012. JHU. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. 07 Mar. 2012. Address.

— Oliver

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