The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (2016)

A look at the life and work of photographer Elsa Dorfman.
  • 6.7 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Errol Morris, Director:
  • Steven Hathaway, Producer:


6 / 10

Looking Back

A peacefully satisfying and nicely edited off-camera interview which reveals the life and life's work of a portrait photographer, most of whose work was uniquely captured using one of the 5 (or so) huge 20x24 inch Polaroid cameras. Her portrait sittings consisted of two poses, and having lovingly saved the print not chosen/purchased by each client, she reflects on these 'b- side' but powerful images beginning in the early 70's of everyday people, a few of the famous, and many of herself and her family.

6 / 10

Rather a Disappointment

Normally I'm an avid fan of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven), but, to be honest, I was rather disappointed in this movie. It centers on the life and work of Elsa Dorfman, whose photographs using the large-format Polaroid technique have been praised for decades.

Dorfman recounts in her own words her history and her artistry, and I did find her honesty and sense of humor engaging. However, we only get a glimpse of her striking photographs of writers, poets, and celebrities and I felt the movie would have been better served with her relating her personal experience with these photos and the people in them. Also, it's only towards the last third of the doc that we see her work with ordinary folk , and it seemed to me there was more of a story to be told there, as well.

Although the film is only 1 hr. and 16 min. in length, the pacing was way too deliberate for my tastes, even getting tedious at times. Overall. I though there was a better tale to be told than what was presented in this doc unfortunately.

7 / 10

4.0 out of 5 stars Errol Morris taking a breather from heavy-tone and spends a delightful time with an eccentric artist. Worth seeing, for sure.

I saw this delightful little film at our local "art house" cinema this weekend. It's a light, airy but entertaining work from Errol Morris, who apparently is actually a friend of the film's subject, Elsa Dorfman. Elsa Dorfman is a photographer of some renown, who truly carved a niche for herself when she began doing portraits on the amazing large format Polaroids. She's now staring retirement in the face because Polaroid is no longer making the film she needs. Morris has caught her at a time of looking back, of reflection on her career and life. She's a bit melancholy but also cheerful. Dorfman is just an interesting subject to spend time with. She's a delightfully quirky lady who offers refreshingly honest and unpretentious observations about art (mostly hers). This is not a philosophical's more about capturing the life and enthusiasms of a well-known, if not quite famous, photographer. That she happened to be great friends with many Beat artists, particularly Ginsberg, is an added plus, because she has some delightful stories to share.

This is an easy, conversation movie about art, an artist, and the life of an artist. It's not glamorous, but it also doesn't wallow in "oh, the suffering one must endure for art." Dorfman is a practical person. Morris gently prods her for insights...but there's nothing here that's too biting or cutting. We get to see lots of her portraits, and many are indeed delightful. This was a feel-good movie...brisk and breezy and nice to look at. I do very much recommend it.