Would one want to spend an entire 2 hours watching a film about typewriters? After all nobody (or hardly anyone these days) uses one. CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER, a documentary by typewriter aficionado Doug Nichol attempts to prove otherwise – that there are both enough material for two hours of interest on the subject and that there are sufficient people in the world involved with the machine.
The title is taken from the name of a typewriter shop in California. In it, the owner, Howard has devoted his whole life into the servicing and repair of the typewriter. He barely etches out a decent living, but his son helps him out in the store as well. As the film progresses, he eventually sells the store and has to seek work elsewhere.
The film focuses on a few ‘typewriter celebrities’.
One is Toronto typewriter collector Martin Howard, who is featured in the film. He has a monumental collection of typewriters available for viewing upon request.
Another is artist Jeremy Mayer who lovingly repurposes their parts to create elegant sculptures. The film follows him as he takes apart a typewriter and makes up a human being from its parts, curved parts for the face and so on – no doubt both a painstaking and artful process. The talented Mayer talks about his obsession as well and how it takes him off the worries of the world.
A surprise of the film is the appearance of major star Tom Hanks, who also has his say on the subject. He loves typing on paper, and making his point that a typewritten letter is so much different from something concocted on computer. Nichols film is a bit too serious all the way – but Hanks appearance injects the much needed humour in the film. He brings laughs and sarcasm into the picture. Besides Hanks, the late Sam Shepard also has a few words to add in.
The other light moment in the film is the musical element – typewriter music. A group of ‘typewriter musicians’ form their own group, creating tunes with the typewriter key sounds and the bell. This must take a lot of time and work but the results are marvellous.
To each his own.
But director Nichols also goes deep into the invention of the machine from its first conception (a wooden one) to its commercial release in 1869 to its importance and popularity when factories came on board mass producing them.
The music accompanying the film ranges from piano playing to polka music suiting the time presented on hand.
CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER is an interesting film on the bygone subject of typewriters – no doubt about that. Those uninterested will shrug at the film but the film is nevertheless still educational (with some philosophy thrown in at the end) and puts the subject of word processing on the computer in perspective.
Director Doug Nichol will be in Toronto for the opening weekend screenings at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on October 27.