Errol Morris's B-Side, The New Release Flying In Under Everyone's Radar

A brand new Errol Morris film has just come out today, and most of you probably had no idea.  This one's really flying in low under the radar.  The B-Side: Elisa Dorfman's Portrait Photography is DVD-only, joining a lot of great and important films that are getting passed over for blu-ray here in America, including Christine, The Evil Within, Snowtown and Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.  It's frustrating to be buying new release DVDs in 2017, but I guess it's still better than the streaming-only dystopia we have looming in our future; so let's just celebrate what we have, courtesy of Virgil Films.  I mean, you can't sit there entirely grim-faced while watching a brand new Morris documentary the world's never seen before!
So Elisa Dorfman is a portrait photographer (you may've guessed that much from the title) who specializes in giant Polaroid photographs.  You know, the instant pictures?  Well, she obtained a giant camera (which she describes as essentially a room with a lens built into it) from Polaroid themselves that took essentially life-size polaroids.  But she was forced into retirement when Polaroid went bankrupt and they eventually stopped producing the film. And so this is a somewhat bittersweet retrospective of her entire life and career.
If you've been following Morris's career, including the articles he's written and his commentary on Standard Operating Procedure, it should come as no surprise that he's come to a photographer as the subject of his latest film.  But if you're familiar with some of his wilder work, like Vernon, Florida or Tabloid, you may spend half this film waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When is she suddenly going to casually let it drop "that's where I buried the bodies," or "that's when I knew I needed to clone my bulldog."  But I'll let you know upfront so you don't spoil the film for yourself anticipating the wrong kind of experience.  We never take that turn.  We have some touching moments, when she looks at the photographs of her parents around the time of their deaths, and her friend Allen Ginsberg's.  But this never becomes a freak show.
 
But nor is it "lesser Morris."  Beautifully shot and scored, compelling use of archival footage, all of course centered around the core interview.  It's a first-class crafted film, admittedly a little short; but otherwise, don't let the barebones presentation fool you.  Oh yeah, didn't I mention that it was completely barebones?  This release isn't just disappointing because it's DVD-only.  Let's get into the disc itself.
I mean, PQ-wise, it's really not bad at all for a DVD.  It's a nice, anamorphic widescreen image... I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the completely unusual 2.18:1 aspect ratio is correct.  There's no interlacing or anything, and it holds up pretty well even on a large screen TV.  But, man, this film really belongs in HD.  There's a scene where she's pointing at a close up of one of her photos saying, "look at the sharpness in that beard; there will never be film like this again," and it's like, lady, I wish I could see through the standard def smudginess.  I mean, you could probably read the caption of the photo she's holding up above in the theater.  But oh well.  It's just the limitations of the format; there are no issues with the DVD itself.
Audio-wise, it has a strong, clean stereo mix.  I mean, it is a new release film, after all.  And there's even a closed caption subtitle option.  But you'll have to access it with your remote control, because this DVD is so barebones, it doesn't even have a menu.  That's how extremely barebones this release is.  You pop it in your player and the movie just starts playing.  It's not a DV-R, though; it's a properly pressed DVD that's available through all the normal channels (Amazon, Best Buy, etc).  Just the laziest proper DVD anybody could've ever produced.  And it's not like Virgil never does blu-rays.  They managed to get out A Brony Tale on blu for goodness' sake.  Still thoroughly recommended, though.

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