December 31, 2018  (Web Review)

California Typewriter

(2017) 104 min. DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $24.99. Gravitas Ventures (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Filmmaker Doug Nichol’s stylish documentary offers a hugely entertaining portrait of yet another subculture obsessed with obsolete/esoteric thingies. Instead of vinyl records, VHS tapes, or Mongolian throat-singing, the topic here is mechanical typewriters, which Nichol uses as a fertile point of departure for musings on the creative human spirit, with the machine serving as a near-mystical collaborator with the mind and the material. Despite ubiquitous laptops and word processors, author David McCullough still uses typewriters, as does actor Tom Hanks, who passionately collects the machines (and despairs that he has not started a trend among his peers—although blogger Richard Polt does when his “Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto” goes viral). Canadian Martin Howard seeks and preserves the rarest typewriters, from their origin in 1867 onwards, observing that the QWERTY keyboard has survived the digital revolution that otherwise devastated the typewriter industry (except for lingering users in India). Artist Jeremy Mayer cannibalizes old typewriters for amazing works of sculpture (including a female nude, reminiscent of the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). Nichol also follows the fortunes of a San Francisco shop that struggles to persevere as the area’s last operating typewriter-repair operation. And who can resist Boston’s Typewriter Orchestra, which performs on…you guessed it. Offbeat and lots of fun, this is highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (C. Cassady)