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Soundtrack review: The B-side: Elsa Dorfman’s portait photography (Paul Leonard-Morgan – 2017)


Soundtrack review: The B-side: Elsa Dorfman’s portait photography (Paul Leonard-Morgan – 2017)



“The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” is a 2016 American documentary film directed by Errol Morris. Portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman found her medium in 1980: the larger-than-life Polaroid Land 20×24 camera. For the next thirty-five years she captured the “surfaces” of those who visited her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio: families, Beat poets, rock stars, and Harvard notables. As pictures begin to fade and her retirement looms, Dorfman gives Errol Morris an inside tour of her backyard archive. Paul Leonard-Morgan wrote the score.

I’ve recently reviewed a very enjoyable photography documentary score, “Nude” by Reza Safinia and here’s another one soon after; this one focuses on the photographer rather than the subjects of the photos and Paul Leonard-Morgan is a composer I usually trust. The opening cue “Dreaming” lives up to its name, if the dreams are more on the active side rather than on the reflective one; I like the stormy piano motif with a mood reminiscent of the fervour of James Horner’s “A beautiful mind” and right from the start the composer tells me that the main character of this movie and, by extension, of this score is a person with an active and constructive mind who dreams big and follows up with actions. “An analog world” follows up with a simple retro electronic piece that wonderfully places the story in time, in my favourite decade, the 80s. I like how it slowly develops into a warm emotional piece with the introduction of a cello motif.

Paul Leonard-Morgan chose a clever and enjoyable way to present Elsa Dorfman’s creativity and way of thinking, with simple yet delightful and optimistic melodies, both piano based and electronic; it’s a pleasant duality that helps me get to know both the character and associate her with the simpler analogue times when she started working and creating. A cue like “Odd” brings all kinds of nostalgia to me with the electronic chimes that echo back to hours of playing early computer games.

This simple and positive vibe is what makes “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” work so well; there’s nothing heavy or uncomfortable in the music and the constant chime like sound gives it a certain dreamy glow. The added warmth of the occasional orchestral insert, cello or violin make the score even more relaxing and prone to leave you with a big smile on your face. There’s just a care and kindness in the music that makes me think of the feeling of taking care of a small child.

I could imagine myself listening to this score on a beach somewhere, sometime during the first days of a vacation, when that feeling is just settling in. I could also imagine listening to this score during the first 7,8 km of a long run on a sunny day when everything feels easy and positive; I’m sure Paul Leonard-Morgan, an accomplished runner, knows what I’m talking about. Simply a delightful score I will definitely keep close.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 31 / 55

Album excellence: 56%

A Frantic Mind
Ginsberg Vibes
A Touch of Insanity
Mrs Happy Sad
Analog Space
Mind over Matter

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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