What is a letter press? As explained in Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff’s documentary PRESSING ON: THE LETTERPRESS FILM, it is a machine that presses letters on to paper using ink so as to make print.
The modern world was born on a printing press. Once essential to communication, the 500-year-old process is now in danger of being lost as its caretaker’s age. From self-proclaimed basement hoarders to the famed Hatch Show Print, PRESSING ON: THE LETTERPRESS FILM explores the question: why have 500 year old letterpresses survived in a digital age?
People are fascinated by the past. As the old adage goes: the past helps humans understand the present and who they are. With those thoughts come a film that provides insight on what the voiceover informs is an old art form.
Why has letterpress printing survived? Irreplaceable knowledge of the historic craft is in danger of being lost as its caretakers age. Fascinating personalities intermix with wood, metal, and type as young printers save a traditional process in PRESSING ON, a 4K feature length documentary exploring the remarkable community keeping letterpress alive. The film begins with shots of presses at work.
It is hard to get people interested in letterpress machines or letter pressing – a thing of the past. This remains therefore a dauntless task for directors Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff to get the audience interested less making a compelling documentary. But maybe they can teach us a bit about history or about the technology of the invention.
The film introduces the audience to one letterpress maker who claims his lifelong task as the restorer of these machines, saying that he could only preserve 50 or so in the rest of his life time, adding that only a minuscule few new ones will be made. “It is a fun machine to watch – to see all the parts moving around,” says he. The film goes on with an enthusiastic graphics designer, Stephanie Carpenter who informs (as well as providing insight) of the 3 stages of letter pressing and how she learnt graphic design through this process.
Worlds of each character are portrayed as unusual narratives – in various states of human emotions of joyful, mournful, reflective and visionary stats, each punctuated with on-screen visual poetry, every shot meticulously composed. Captivating personalities blend with wood, metal and type as young printers strive to save this historic process in a film created for the designer, type nerd, historian and collector in us all.
PRESSING ON ends up not too bad a documentary (yes, quite nostalgic, romantic and as oddly entertaining as its subjects) subject nor too bad a documentary either. What can be more romantic than a married couple letter pressing in the garage together? There are little messages imbued in the doc together with some light humour making it light entertainment and a good quiet watch on the smaller screen.
The doc is available On iTunes, DVD/Blu-ray and On Demand Tuesday, June 19 worldwide.