The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography Screen 17 articles

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography


The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography Poster
  • Pleasant though Dorfman’s company is, her story might have been more effective juxtaposed against others, Fast, Cheap-style, perhaps as part of a larger treatise on the value of imperfection. As is, The B-Side feels a bit like a B-side itself: good enough to merit release, but probably just not strong enough to chart.

  • If for Dorfman the camera is a mere tool—a spoon but not the soup—her photographs embody, in more lay terms, Benjamin’s formulation that “the manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well”... There’s delight in the faded things, share Dorfman and Morris (by way of Jonathan Richman)—a mystery not of high heels, or eye shadow.

  • It's a stylistic departure for the famously rigorous filmmaker. Not only is it an affectionate and personal film – the subject, Elsa Dorfman, is a long-standing friend and Morris’s emotional investment in her story is evident in every frame. It’s also far more informal in approach than his normal forthright technique... That the resulting film is as interesting as it turns out to be is largely thanks to Elsa’s unassuming charm as an interviewee.

  • Though geared up for a grueling menu of miserablism, I was actually confounded by the unexpected pictures of righteous happiness that emerged on screen. Errol Morris’s The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography doesn’t take long before it hits on one of Morris’s pet issues: the “evidence” question about photography.

  • At the outset, Errol Morris’s new film The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography may seem to be the minor, ancillary work that the title implies. For a man that has cultivated a reputation as a purveyor of meticulous investigative documentaries such as The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, this looser study of a friend feels, on the surface, lightweight. However, the film’s comparatively informal style makes for an affectionate and deceptively layered portrait of a singular character.

  • It offers an intriguing swerve in Morris’s ongoing obsession with scrutinizing the truth behind images. If, in films like Standard Operating Procedure and his political documentaries The Fog of War and The Unknown Known, Morris tried to find the truth behind photographs and public personas, here he finds something of personal fascination with an artist who believes that the images her subjects desire to adopt for her camera have a truth all their own.

  • In a stroke of genius, Morris plays the messages that were left on Dorfman’s machine, right before, and immediately after, Ginsburg’s death. Since so much of her work was devoted to the Beat poet, this gesture creates a sense of life, and art, coming full circle. This is perhaps the most prescient lesson of The B-Side: the technology that we took for granted, relinquishes its beauty and faces extinction.

  • Dorfman coaxes an unusual and bracing tenderness out of Morris, as he doesn't turn her into another of his quasi-satirical caricatures... Morris achieves an inner/outer unity in The B-Side, filming Dorfman and her work with a rapt attentiveness that maps the nostalgic and regretful stirrings of her soul.

  • Closing in on 80 years old, [Dorfman is] as lively as a cricket but sensitive to the precarious temporality of life and art, which is all about "nailing down the now." Her vivid Polaroids will erode, and she says she lacks the stamina to digitize her archive. So her work, which we see being packed away for storage, will fade, ironically, just as it has begun to attracted good notices. All of which she faces with the calm

  • It's an affecting account of the friendship and mutual respect between artists (Morris has known Dorfman for decades) as well as a fine-grained (no photography pun intended) look at the way that the development of an artist's style is usually intertwined with the technology and materials that she chooses to embrace.

  • At an incredibly fleet 76 minutes, The B-Side is an unmistakably minor work from a filmmaker who rejiggered the entire nonfictional medium nearly 30 years ago with his true-crime landmark The Thin Blue Line.

  • The concepts of perishability and impermanence are at the core of Morris's latest work. The documentary serves as a bittersweet contrast between the hope of the inventor Land at the outset that Polaroid will "become part of the human being; an adjunct to your memory," and the realization of the artist Dorfman at the end of a career: "If you're a photographer and you're always nailing down what's the now, you realize it doesn't matter ... the now is always racing beyond you."

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    Sight & Sound: Tom Charity
    October 07, 2016 | Toronto | November 2016 Issue (pp. 16)

    In each case [The B-Side, Abacus and Into the Inferno], the filmmaker takes what might initially seem like a small or unpromising subject and through observation, patience and curiosity unearths unexpected layers of truth, humanity and transcendence.

  • What makes the gestalt unique is the freshness of her take on people, and life in general, an almost childlike innocence which is evident in the way she treats both the people close to her as well as the subjects of a shoot. It takes great pleasure, indeed great comfort, in the ordinary.

  • Errol Morris’s quietly passionate and inspiring new film, “The B-Side,” which opens Friday, is a work of echoes and reflections. It’s a documentary portrait of Elsa Dorfman, a photographer who does mainly portraits and whose photography is inseparable from the details of her daily life. Her life and work illuminate the very essence of her medium. In the process of telling Dorfman’s life story, Morris also gathers hints about the nature of moviemaking, and about his own art.

  • You might initially take [Ms. Dorfman] for a nice old lady with an unusual hobby... But you would be wrong, and this is part of the point that Mr. Morris makes, quietly, with this enjoyable but also profound movie. Part of Mr. Morris’s reputation as a great documentary filmmaker is derived from his friendly-seeming but pressing interview technique, but here, when he’s heard, he speaks to Ms. Dorfman as a friend, and she responds to him with warm reminiscences of her beginnings as a photographer.

  • More than any of Morris’s films, The B-Side is directly about the mystery of capturing a person’s identity on film, whether it’s moving or still. Elsa Dorfman, as a veteran photographer specializing in the mystery of the moment—captured specifically by large-format Polaroid cameras—knows more about this topic than most people, and demystifies it with bracing readiness.

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