The latest documentary from Errol Morris (“The Unknown Known”) is much too long for its subject matter. At the center of “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” is a now eighty-year-old woman who moved to New York in 1959, took up photography and ended up capturing many seminal Beat generation figures through her camera lens. Among her most impressive works is a series of 1975 photographs featuring Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg. Later, she became Ginsberg’s trusted photographer, capturing him as he aged. Dorfman turned to more commercial, family-oriented portrait photography as she settled in Cambridge, MA, where she now lives. Dorfman continues to use large-format Polaroid photography, even past the format’s popularity.
But while Dorfman’s life, especially in the 1960s, is naturally intriguing, Morris’s documentary is cinematic overkill. Even at a lean seventy-six minutes, the film feels at least half an hour too long, and at times more of an advertisement for Dorfman’s services from a friend rather than a prodding examination of lives and cultures one can expect from a documentarian of Morris’s stature. That’s not to say the whole film is a bust — Dorfman is a warm personality who offers a rather unique perspective on a closely-studied generation of people, and her photography is as compelling as herself — but the film may feel more at home as an informative program running on a helpful television next to a temporary art exhibit.