It feels surprising, but Errol Morris has never made a feature film about an artist before. Elsa Dorfman may not even consider herself an “artist,” so it’s possible he still hasn’t. But in “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography,” Morris is bonding and relating to Dorfman in a way he usually doesn’t with his subjects. It’s made for one of his sweeter, if more fleeting, films.
Morris’s interviews in his documentaries are always square to the camera, with the speaker looking you dead in the eye. His confrontational position always leaves some ambiguity as to whether Morris admires these people or wants to gawk at them. Not so in “The B-Side,” where Dorfman is often shot askew as she hunches over a work table and looks fondly at boxes and drawers full of her old photographs. Occasionally Morris’s camera gets inches from Dorfman’s face, but he looks fondly on her frumpy black hair, thick glasses and congenial face of a kind Jewish mother.
Dorfman came to mild success in the ‘60s with photos of Allen Ginsburg and Bob Dylan, among other luminaries of the Beat scene and New York literature circles. But her lifelong passion was “large scale portrait photography.” Dorfman got her hands on a massive Polaroid camera, one of just a few ever made. The camera is a bulky contraption the size of a refrigerator, and it’s capable of taking life-size portraits just like the instant Polaroid’s your mom snapped before your prom. Continue reading “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography”