December 15, 2017 – This documentary about portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman tells the story of the rise and fall of Polaroid and the end of analog film photography in general in the digital age. Elsa Dorfman herself is a refreshingly candid, unpretentious and forthcoming subject who seems almost like a Jewish mother cliché at times.
Dorfman tells about how difficult it was for women to have any kind of career when she was growing up, and how lucky she was to have a career as a photographer. She doesn't talk much about her private life or her family, but it becomes clear, over the course of the film, how much she cares for her family and friends, including the late Alan Ginsberg.
Dorfman is best known for her portraits taken with a large format Polaroid camera (making 20 by 24-inch prints). As if that isn't big enough, she shows off some even bigger prints in the film, 40 by 80 inches made by an even larger Polaroid camera. The problem is this is a movie whose maximum resolution cannot even begin to match the detail in these prints. These can only be appreciated with the naked eye. Therein lies the rub. How will these prints be preserved, and where can they be seen? Even Dorfman has no answer for that.
Dorfman has many prints stored in large archival film drawers. This film gets its name, The B-Side, from many of the prints she has in storage, because they are prints rejected by her clients. She made two prints, and her clients picked the one they wanted, while she kept the other, the B-Side.
We see many prints in the film, including some famous prints of songwriter Bob Dylan, and of famed Beat poet Alan Ginsberg, including some nude photos. Nude photos of Ginsberg, including a 40x80 print, and nudes of herself, are in the film.
When asked if a photo reveals the truth, she says “Of course not.” She argues you can get as many versions of the truth as the number of photos you take of the same subject. Dorfman seems to be more interested in capturing the surface of people and things, not exploring their inner workings. The film seems to be more about the fleeting instant captured by the camera.
Dorfman talks about fleeting moments. You can never catch up to the moment. It flees ahead with that mysterious arrow of time. A photograph, however, does preserve a particular time from the past into the future. Dorfman talks like a philosopher at times, but never seems to take herself, or anything else, very seriously, except for the death of Polaroid, and film.
Dorfman talks with some bitterness about what happened after Polaroid went bankrupt. She talks about the loss of film and all the wonderful machinery thrown away. The world churns on, heartlessly, and a whole way of life is left in ruin. Dorfman is an artist without a medium. This film celebrates her and her massive collection of B-Side prints, made by a camera for which film is no longer made. This film rates a B.
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