California Typewriter (2016) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
14 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Great movie--about more than typewriters
ppp444-118 September 2017
This is a fully engrossing movie that uses a portrait of a small business in Berkeley, CA to examine the unique mind set of collectors, the history of the typewriter and its impact on the culture as well as being a meditation on the cost of technological progress. We meet a wide range of people who collect typewriters, including Tom Hanks. He is very charming and is very clearly passionate about these machines. It's fun to listen to him explain what he likes about his typewriters and he has a compelling philosophical outlook. The other collectors are equally interesting and diverse, though, as noted in the film, mostly men. California Typewriter focuses on a very particular segment of society, but manages to say a lot about American culture in general.

I think it's inexcusable for a documentary that features a lot of talking head interviews not to identify the speakers on camera. We all know who Tom Hanks is, and maybe John Mayer. But the other notable people interviewed are not household names or faces, even Sam Shepard, RIP. The names are listed "In order of appearance" in the end credits. Are we supposed to memorize who appeared in what order? If it weren't for this creative choice, I would have given 10 stars.
12 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Behold, The Lowly Typewriter
lbenot20 September 2017
Unlikely, but well-done documentary which examines the history and current status of the lowly typewriter via commentary from people having diverse perspectives: the long-established but struggling repair shop operators; the antiquity collectors of the earliest models; the people, some famous, who still use and romantically embrace their antiquated machines; a small group who performs percussive 'music' with typewriters; and a super creative artist who turns unusable typewriters and their parts into incredible pieces of art.

Filming, Editing, and musical soundtrack were superb.

Intelligent and entertaining, a historical, sociological, and philosophical all-in-one study well worth the price of admission.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Return To Analog
zkonedog29 November 2017
One of the big reasons that "California Typewriter" showed up on my radar was likely because I happened to be reading a book at the same time called "Revenge of Analog". That book describes a movement back towards things such as records, paper, board games, and other physical (not digital) forms of leisure and commerce. That is the main theme of "California Typewriter" too...only focusing on the device listed in the title.

This documentary basically focuses on a number of different human interest stories involving a piece of technology largely thought "obsolete": the typewriter. From Tom Hanks' typewriter collection to the actual California Typewriter story, to a sculpture artist and and a collector looking for his coup de grace (and even a little history thrown in), this doc attacks the typewriter's story from nearly every angle.

Even above the human stories, though, is the notion present throughout the entire doc of that "return to analog" of sorts. As technology marches on, sometimes we don't stop to evaluate whether the physical experience of creation needs to take a back seat to the ease of creation. Don't get me wrong...I'm not exchanging my iPhone for a flip phone, nor am I turning in my MacBook for a desktop PC. I'm no Luddite. But it is a fascinating idea for me (old enough to remember a time before the Internet and mobile everything)...this notion that sometimes, say, the act of typing something on a physical device might be more satisfying than the ease of a word processor.

So, even though I'm not really "into" typewriters (I can honestly say I've never used one in my life!), I can say that this doc fascinated me and connected with me on a nostalgic, but also intellectual level. A return to analog devices may not be for everyone, but docs like this prove that the newest technology may not be for everyone, either. There is room for both, and even a mixture of both.
4 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
history, nostalgia, creativity
ferguson-617 August 2017
Greetings again from the darkness. QWERTY. Chances are you recognize that from your laptop keyboard, and have never thought about the origin or design reason. This is just one of the fascinating topics in the surprisingly interesting and entertaining documentary from Doug Nichol (former music video guru for Aerosmith, Lenny Kravitz, Sting, and The New Kids on the Block).

Did you know there are folks who collect and still use typewriters? Well there are, and you've even heard of some of them: Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, David McCullough and John Mayer. We hear from each of these as they describe their connection to the "old school" way of producing text on a page.

Mr. Nichol began with the idea of making a short film focusing on a small typewriter repair shop in Berkeley. As the story evolved, he learned of the many facets associated with the community of typewriter enthusiasts … those who refuse to give up the old way simply because a new way exists. There is history. There is nostalgia. There is a link to creativity. The film explores all of this and more.

Christopher Latham Sholes was a believer in Women's Rights in the 1800's, and his invention of the typewriter was to create more job opportunities for women. His prototype looked more like a piano, and due to a lack of investor interest, he finally had to sell to Remington in order to get production and marketing. By 1890, there were 60 manufacturers of typewriters, and the Sholes and Glidden model remains a gem of any collection even today.

It's bittersweet to see the recently deceased Sam Shepard and hear him explain how he never got along with a computer screen, but loves the feel and sound of his typewriter. He created some of the most marvelous plays ever written, and compares loading the paper to 'saddling a horse', and notes the sound of typing has a "percussion about it".

John Mayer recalls seeing Bob Dylan "playing" a typewriter as he wrote his songs, and has since made it apart of his own songwriting process. An inordinate amount of time is spent with Mayer on screen, but it does make the point that even the generation raised on technology can find value in an object that was once an office staple, and is now a mere relic to most. Writer David McCullough claims the typewriter is the only way he can write, and Tom Hanks seems to truly enjoy talking about his typewriter obsession, and how he spends time each day typing out thank you notes and correspondence.

The repair shop is the heart of the story, and we continually come back to Ken Alexander as he lovingly restores each machine that comes in. It's with a bit of irony that we watch Ken and the store owner Herb come to realize that they must rely on today's technology of websites and social media as a last hope for survival.

In stark contrast to Ken bringing typewriters back to life, we see modern sculptor Jeremy Mayes as he scavenges for typewriter parts for his latest piece. And in an odd twist, we meet a group who makes music with typewriters and actually perform classic songs with their own vibe.

Nostalgia has brought back vinyl records, and there is a community of folks who believe the typewriter revolution is underway. The rationale is that technology is now ruling our lives and we need to step back and get in touch with what is real and produce tangible results – not just use up storage on a hard drive. While we may not be convinced that "the revolution is typewritten" (from The Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto), the film is actually thought- provoking as it tracks and connects humans-machines-technology.
5 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Love this movie.
Auralex530 January 2018
I saw this film last year at the Cleveland Film Festival and absolutely fell in love with it. It's not so much about typewriters as it is about people & human connectivity in an increasing digital world. I watched it again the other evening on Amazon and fell in love with the characters and their lives all over again. It's a very emotional and beautiful film that just flows over you. Bravo!
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Making the once familiar once again familiar
robbotnik200019 July 2019
A beautifully shot, paced, and variegated documentary which brings together multiple flows of narrative, starging with a 'murder' story from the road at the very beginning and including people who are fascinated with the typewriter as history, the typewriter as cause, the typewriter's guts as a source of creative art, and simple typewriter collecting. The people are varied, informed, have something to say, and the documentarian is absolutely in charge and invisible. The music selection was impeccable and probably left out Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" as too 'near the bone'/ trite to be used for a movie that has a lot of stuff to show while carrying more than one message. A masterwork which I thoroughly enjoyed
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Senses Fuel Creation
thirtyfivestories1 October 2017
Ideas are not birthed, they are captured. Elusive and fickle, thought frolics like a kid straight out of school. Machines did not equip us with ideas; they merely help us capture them. Spear them down with safety pins, a grotesque abdomen of exposed entrails. Our thought is repulsive but honest, instinctive and pure.

The typewriter is the remaining bastion of expression hunting. Not reliant on electricity, the mechanical cornucopia smashes its appendages on a miniature canvas, splattering emotion in precise linear shapes. The machine asks no questions and is supremely subservient to its owner.

Documenting ideas has become more efficient as technology trudges into the electronic age. The typewriter challenges efficiency by introducing an element of savoring. The process tactile and the sensation tangible, keys clatter with purpose. There are no aids, only obedient marks summoned by an uncensored consciousness.

Those bathed in admiration of the typewriter prefer a partner in their creation, and not a lifeless red squiggle or an absolute backspace bar. Mistakes are reduced to creative quirks and ink elevated to spilled blood. A dialogue forms between person and machine, and incubation of meaning initiates.

Obsession always has noble causes. To outsiders a person's passion might seem overtly sensual or nonsensical, but admiration's roots grow deep in sentimental soil. Faced with a chaotic existence, a focal point for creativity provides a saving grace for those manic and compulsive.

Being particular is becoming less praised in a multitasking world. Satisfaction slowly aligns with speed. A hollow qualification of accomplishment, completion overrides process. The typewriter stands stoically in the stream of this devolution. The journey is the creation, and the creation is the sum of one's creative missteps. Concrete are the symbols of this machine's language: Romantic and dying.
4 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
It really is just s documentary about typewriters!
jamesjoemiller17 December 2017
I watched this movie because it had a high rating and Tom Hanks. This was a waist of time! I'm no expert, but unless you have a love for typewriters, skip this movie! BORING!!!
5 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Multifaceted look at the typewriter as a mirror on progress
jamesononline29 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
A diverse look at a niche I didn't know was so cool! Looks at so many unknown aspects of how the typewriter manifests itself in the current world, from collections, to repair shops to making music from them. This documentary is not just about the typewriter but about people and progress in a technological age.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Halfway Decent but Nowhere Near Great
marsalone6 July 2018
First off let me just say that this film is smack dab in the middle of my wheelhouse: I love typewriters (have a small collection) and love documentaries. With all of my predisposition to love this movie, I felt bored stopping it in the middle and watching the rest a day or two later. It just isn't very compelling.

It's like every subject is just superficially addressed. There is not a lot of substance or depth here. This documentary could have been much better. Tom Hanks' enthusiasm is palpable and infectious, unfortunately he isn't in the film enough. John Mayer comes across really well but nothing he says is ever challenged. I'm thinking about how he just says you get nothing physical from writing lyrics in Word. Mayer could just hit the print button and have a hard copy. There has got to be something else driving him to use a typewriter. Plus he is using a daisy wheel electronic typewriter whereas just about all other machines in he film are manuals with maybe the mention of Selectrics.

I would like to have seen talking heads debate between the usage of manual vs. electric vs. electronic typewriters. Some mention of Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski who had a foreboding message about technology and used a manual Smith Corona to write his Manifesto. Seriously the most infamous typewriter lover of the past 20 years and no mention of him or his ideas which would've fit right in with this movie.

Instead this is just a fluff piece on typewriters and their advocates that's really weak and boring even to someone who loves the subject matter.

Truth be told the filmmakers should have just focused on the typewriter repair shop and maybe 5 or 6 of their clients. A lot of these typewriter lovers are freaks and weirdos with all sorts of craziness going on. Using the the repair shop as a hub to explore the lives of the wackiest of its clients would no doubt be very entertaining.

Good production values, some nice jazz on the soundtrack and some decent talking heads bumps this up to a 6.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A documentary, not a 'movie'
iantrader25 December 2017
I was expecting something a little more than this so perhaps it's my fault.

I got about 15 minutes into it and that was enough. I was expecting some some of story, a thread. I love programs about writers, artists, musicians, creativity but this didn't hit the mark (maybe it did later on, I dunno), it was about the 'lure' of the typewriter and although I started writing on a typewriter back in the day, the begining just did not grab, hold, entice or excite.

I did watch a super doc on pinball machines, docs aren't a problem, so in spite of my interest in artistic and creative endeavours, perhaps typewriters just don't cut it for me. Maybe they will for you.
1 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Good but could have been deeper
ggknutsen8 October 2018
Not bad. Great insight into writing and how the typewriter has influenced certain artists. Uses a store in Hollywood which is still repairing and selling typewriters as the main story-line. But, felt the doc was missing something. Needed to get a little deeper.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
All Feels, No Facts
paulam-726-69436528 December 2017
As with every other pop culture investigation of the 'typewriter renaissance', this documentary focuses almost entirely on vapid artists and obsessive collectors pontificating on their irrelevant emotional connections to typewriters, and of course the cliche of the incredibly skilled typewriter technician on the verge of unemployment. A comprehensive discussion of the machines themselves would make for a far more useful production, but instead they go for the same old wistful, depressing tone I've come to expect from technically inept documentarians trying to discuss historical technical subjects. They don't really understand the subject matter, so they film the only thing they know: feelings. Any self-respecting typewriter collector will spend two hours pointing at the screen saying things like "I have two of those" and "I have that one but mine's green instead of red", but that's about the extent of the enjoyment. The star of the show should be the typewriters, but they are secondary to pointless musings and a sense of loss.

One final note of caution: the 'band' that plays 'music' on typewriters is pure cringe-worthy torture on every level. They alone are reasonable justification to avoid watching this film.
0 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Interesting documentary.
Quietb-15 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Who knew Tom Hanks would be type cast. He is among the most normal people in this unique typewriter fetish movie. The title refers to an office product store in Berkley California that does everything typewriters. There are plenty of talking heads on the virtues and creativity that spring from the use of a typewriter over a digital device.

There are plenty of slightly askew typewriter lovers, mostly men who are enthusiastic over the keys and the bells. There is actually a musical group that plays songs on their typewriters. The history, origins, demise and perhaps an optimistic future are all presented in this a bit long documentary.

If you like interesting non political, non controversial documentaries check this out. It's in limited release but with finding.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed