California TypewriterB +
|Lowest Recommended Age:||Middle School|
|MPAA Rating:||Not rated, no adult content|
|Date Released to Theaters:||August 18, 2017|
A couple of years ago, I stayed at a hotel that had a vintage manual typewriter in the lobby, with a pristine stack of paper placed neatly beside it. I could not resist. I rolled in a piece of paper and began to hit the keys, enjoying what pianists call the action of the machine and the memories it brought back.
Then I got to the end of the line and waited. Although I learned to type the summer before my freshman year in high school and typed my school papers through high school, college, and law school and then used increasingly sophisticated typewriters in offices for the next five years, I had completely forgotten that it was up to me to hit the carriage return. I reached up and swung the lever, and very much enjoyed reviving the memory of that feeling of satisfaction, accompanied by the little bell. A computer will wait, sometimes impatiently, for you to continue. A typewriter will congratulate you for what you have accomplished.
This captivating documentary pays tributes to typewriters and the small but passionate group who still love and repair them. It is filled with delightful characters, and if they sometimes edge into Christopher Guest territory with their rhapsodies about the percussion and the ink flying onto the paper (the late Sam Shepard, adding an extra sense of loss to the film), or how typewritten words are “almost what thoughts look like” (John Mayer), they are still endearing and insightful. And, as ever the voice of decency and civilization, Tom Hanks shows up because he is a serious collector of vintage typewriters and he likes to give them to friends and urge them to use them.
Indeed, I am now guessing that the Greg Kinnear character in “You’ve Got Mail” who loves his analog typewriters so much may in fact be based on the real-life passions of the man who gets the girl in the film, played by Tom Hanks.
California Typewriter is the name of the Berkeley, California typewriter repair shop that may have to close as its owner is turning 70 and business is pretty much eclipsed by computers, except for the collectors and John Henry-types. The film alternates between the people at the store and typewriter aficionados, from a collector who literally dreams of owning one of the very first typewriters made by the man credited with inventing them to a sculptor whose medium is typewriter parts. Ever wondered about the odd QWERTY arrangement of letters on your computer keyboard? Did you know that typewriters created a whole new category of jobs for women, bringing them for the first time into workplaces other than schoolrooms and hospitals? The women themselves were called “typewriters.” There’s a music group that uses typewriters as their instruments. And historian David McCullough, who writes his book on his old Royal typewriter, mourns the loss of typed letters, speeches, and diaries, with cross-outs and inserts. “There is value in mistakes…You see the process.”
There is a bittersweet quality to the film, which has brief glimpses of people standing in long lines in the rain to get the new iPad, and tech conference presenters chirping about algorithms. We see the last typewriter manufacturer in the world close down, and its final 100 machines turned into a sculpture. But the very scarcity creates bonds. “I collect typewriters,” a man with a veritable museum in his home says. “But better than that, I collect typewriter friends.” And it is not a spoiler to note that the failing store of the title gets new access to customers from the very technology that disrupted its industry: a website.
Parents should know that this movie has some brief art images of bodies.
Family discussion: Have you ever typed on a typewriter?
If you like this, try: “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim,” with Betty Grable as a “typewriter” (secretary), and the delightful French film “Populaire,” a romantic comedy about a champion typist and her boss/coachRelated Tags: