A Little Too Understated: Our Review of ‘The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, Uncategorized by - June 23, 2017
A Little Too Understated: Our Review of ‘The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography’

Sometimes a change of speed isn’t always what’s called for.  As master documentarian Errol Morris’ latest The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography hits theatres we still get a unique and genuine portrait of an artist but it feels a little more muted then most may expect.

Portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman found her medium in 1980: the larger-than-life Polaroid Land 20×24 camera. For the next thirty-five years she captured the “surfaces” of those who visit her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio: families, Beat poets, rock stars, and Harvard notables. As pictures begin to fade and her retirement looms, Dorfman gives Errol Morris an inside tour of her backyard archive.

While certainly worth the price of admission for her anecdotes alone, The B-Side just feels far too humble to be a dock that resonates long past the initial viewing.

Morris’ knack for letting his subjects go where they want to go in the narrative is always one to be lauded but as this played out more like a loving career retrospective then anything he has ever done in the past.  Its charm is obvious and it does actually have the emotional feel of something that Morris himself would call a B-Side or an alternative to his own work and in many ways uses Dorfman’s humble nature as a window on to his own career.  It holds to a loose but effective structure and while her moments waxing philosophical about someone like Alan Ginsberg is not without some merit, it could have used a little more focus from Morris’ typically deft touch.

Undoubtedly an interesting little piece about one of those artists that really only other artists and photographers appreciate, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography is not without some charm but it could have used a little more structure to make us as an audience a little more engaged with a story that at least some of us, just don’t have a lot of background on.  This is basically Errol Morris taking a rest, and there’s nothing wrong with that because even at half speed he is still one of the most compelling documentarians on the planet, it just felt off seeing him go at this slower more casual pace in storytelling.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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