Music history is filled with stories about songwriters and how they got their start. The worst tales – the ones that make documentaries about the fall of a musician – usually begin with a bad deal. In truth, every music career begins with an agent. Portrait of a Rocker: B-Side is a short film about a new band that is meeting with an agent named Eddie Chapman (John Baker Butler). Chapman impresses them with a story about James Brown. He also gives the duo an ultimatum. He is willing to sign them if they can give him original material in the next five days.
The film makes sure to play to its strengths. This is not a traditional story. It is one moment in three people’s lives. It has less of a theme than a random sketch thrown on in the closing minutes of a variety show. Instead, it is all about one character and setting a mood. Portrait of a Rocker is able to deliver both effectively through Butler. This is basically a one person show as Chapman monopolizes the conversation. The young musicians have little to say as they listen to the music executive.
What the scene gets across is the sense of urgency needed in the situation. Chapman speaks at a brisk pace. He is not so much having a conversation as he is barking out orders. Every statement demands a response and Chapman is the one who is going to give them. The audience is left feeling like the duo once Chapman has finished speaking. Shell-shocked, speechless, and even amazed. There is nothing left to say since Chapman has said it all. Much like the two, anyone watching will want to rush to satisfy Chapman.
Portrait of a Rocker: B-Side is a fine short film. The movie has the freedom to work in its own space and takes full advantage. Character development and a fleshed out story are not necessary for what the film is trying to accomplish. Instead, it captures an overlooked moment in time that happens constantly.