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California Typewriter

by on September 13, 2017
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I realize I am dating myself by extolling the virtues of “California Typewriter.” The documentary is a love letter to a device that a dedicated minority embrace, but has been pushed aside by technology.

The film made me nostalgic for my early years in journalism when newsrooms were dominated by the cacophony of the clack-clack-clack of the keys, the bells of line-ending sentences and the ripping of paper from machines as reporters battled deadlines and word counts to get the news in print.

And while the bustle of newsrooms did not abate and writers still used keyboards to type on computer monitors, an atmosphere of excitement seemed to diminish when the typewriter was doomed to the ash bin of history and replaced.

“California Typewriter” talks to actors, playwrights, collectors and authors who continue to embrace these machines. The story also focuses on the Oakland, Calif., shop that gives the movie its name. California Typewriter is one of the last repair shops in the nation, dedicated to keeping these so-called dinosaurs clicking.

Filmmaker Doug Nichol, who directed, edited and photographed the feature, shows his affection for these machines. Some shots linger on the beauty and symmetry of Smith-Coronas, Royals and Underwoods. But Nichol does more than that. He interviews people who eschew computers for typewriters because, as the late playwright Sam Shepard explains, using one is a “tactile experience.”

Historian-author David McCullough, who has written on the same typewriter for more than 50 years, explains how history will be lost because the demise of typewriters will eliminate how scholars can follow revisions in papers and speeches that shaped the human experience.

Computers erase history by deleting mistakes and alterations, McCullough and singer-songwriter John Mayer say.

The movie also delves into the world of typewriter collectors, who include such famous people as Tom Hanks — who has about 250 — to others who look for machines from the 19th and early 20th century.

“California Typewriter” shows us a sculptor who collects discarded typewriters and cannibalizes their parts to make unusual works and figures.

The biggest irony in the movie is the California Typewriter shop’s flirtation with closing and having to adopt social media to promote itself to attract customers.

Nichol uses the movie not just to tout typewriters, but to explore the creative process and the human desire for substantial items that can help spark ideas. “California Typewriter” is a very likable, eccentric excursion. It goes deeper than you may at first believe. It will make you look back and reflect on the cost of technology to the mind and the spirit. Yet it does so in an elegant and airy manner that will lighten your heart and bring a smile to your face.

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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