Matthew Porterfield’s Putty Hill (2010) + Take What You Can Carry (2015)

June 1, 2016 | By

PuttyHill_poster_sThis past Sunday I caught a screening of Matthew Porterfield’s second feature film Putty Hill (2010) and his recent short Take What You Can Carry (2015) at Toronto’s Royal Cinema, and although the former is available on DVD from Cinema Guild in North America (a release I’ll review in full in the future), seeing the movie in 35mm is a wholly different experience.

Like his short film, Putty Hill was shot digitally, but the decision to opt for a film blow-up gives the production a very different visual texture that also affects the soundtrack. It’s a unique example of how the type of media – in this case, film stock – can alter the impression of an overall work even though it’s ostensibly the same footage and sound mix.

It’s also a novel approach in flipping the trend of shooting on film and finishing the work digitally, with distribution as a file or on disc, and yet video-to-film isn’t new at all – just the boost in quality that in 2016 makes the final results more technically pleasing.




Among the earliest examples that come to mind is Electronovision, which used a “high resolution” video format t that was reshot on film off a kinescope. The trio of best-known films include Hamlet (1964) with Richard Burton, The T.A.M.I. Show (1964), and the quickie cash-in bio-drama Harlow (1965), based on the life of Jean Harlow.




A later use of video-to-film was Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Oberwald Mystery / Il mistero di Oberwald (1980), and a more daring attempt to bridge the gap between video and film resolution is the 1987 Italian-produced thriller Julia and Julia / Giulia e Giulia (1987), in which Sting and Kathleen Turner had the honor of starring in the first film to be shot on HD video and bumped to film.

Neither of these films is available on DVD in North America, and Julia and Julia has never been mastered for home video from the original HD master. In its film blow-up, Julia looked like crap, but jump ahead to 2004, and Greg Harrison’s weird suspense film November looked quite striking, shot in miniDV and blown-up to 35mm.

TakeWhatYouCanCarry_poster_sPorterfield’s world isn’t wholly accessible to broad audiences, but certain Putty Hill and Take What You Can Carry have creative choices that are often quite rewarding for those eschewing classically structured dramas with familiar plots and resolutions, and from a technical stance, Putty Hill illustrates the benefit in bouncing between digital and analogue media to achieve a look that’s tailored for distinct stories rather than commercial appeal.





Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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