On Wednesday I went and saw the new documentary California Typewriter. In short, the film was wonderful. It began on an interesting note – the Royal Road Test. To a casual observer, the Royal Road Test is a beige spiral-bound booklet that resembles some long forgotten technical manual. Inside is a criminal investigation. Scattered along a stretch of highway lie parts of a deceased Royal 10, indicating that the victim was thrown from a moving vehicle – likely that of the author. As with most self-investigations no guilty party was found. From there, a narrative was spun and an experience was had that comes the closest to out-of-body that I’ve ever been.
The story goes from the then-struggling California Typewriter shop in Berkeley across collectors, poets, writers, and an artist. All have their own personal relationship with the typewriter and reasons for its continued appreciation and usefulness. At times contrasted against modern digital culture, the film really is thought provoking and at times touching.
The cast of characters is diverse to say the least. The most recognizable names are those of actor Tom Hanks, singer/songwriter John Mayer, author David McCullough, and playwright Sam Shepard. Artist Jeremy Mayer, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, philosopher Richard Polt, collector Martin Howard, and the typosphere’s beloved Herman Price all make appearances as well – Jeremy and Martin’s being the most significant.
The film beautifully covers the emancipation that the typewriter brought to women, the future historian’s loss of margin notes and on-paper edits, and among others the loss of creative ‘flow’ at the hands of digital interruptions and easy self-editing. If anything the film makes it clear that the death of this analog process is a death to be mourned and has a history to be celebrated. It presents the advantages of working on paper, and of rebelling against the ‘digital regime’.
The parts that I find the most valuable are when the interviewees express what the machine means to them. It makes the idea of using typewriters in the 21st Century rational and relatable to a larger, ‘digitally hipnotized’ audience; the process becoming more presentable and less stereotypically ‘luddite’.
Leaving the theater, I heard the other moviegoers bemoaning the loss of family typewriters, reminiscing on using them and wishing that they had one. This makes me ecstatic. I have been trying to adequately voice some of those ideas for some time now, and the job this movie does is great. If anyone asks you why you collect or use typewriters, just tell them to watch California Typewriter. Seriously.
The gala after the showing was packed – one could barely walk. With the amount of wine passing around there were plenty of tipsy folk after a relatively short period of time that made the gala entertaining in other ways… Most of the drunk middle-aged women ended up around Martin, and one mistook me for Jeremy. Fun!
While the ‘entertainment’ at the gala was unforgettably loud and annoying, seeing people crowd around & wait in line to use one out of a circle of manual typewriters was flooring. It felt like the typewriter was once again having its day.
Doug Nichol – the director of California Typewriter – is one of us! At present he has between 80 and 85 typewriters to his name, and that alone makes me recommend the film. Other stars from the documentary were also present. Ken Alexander from California Typewriter, Richard Polt, Jeremy Mayer, and Martin Howard were weaving through the crowd and socializing. I got to talk to each of them, and they were all down-to-earth and very relatable.
I must confess, when I first saw Jeremy Mayer’s work a few years ago I was not enthused. After hearing what he has to say, and seeing the good that his work is doing for the typewriter community as a whole, I am impressed and thankful for his change of my opinon.
Since I forgot my phone (and by extension my light meter) in the car, I have no pictures of mine to post of the event at this time. I winged it (wung it?) with my Nikkormat on Kodak Tri-X based upon previous experience, but I am pretty sure they are underexposed. Pushed 400 to 800, f5.6 (sometimes 4), shutter speed 60, wide-angle Vivitar lens.
The most ‘real’ part of the night was after the gala was over. It was a little nippy out as the valet from the Ritz was retrieving our car and we stood waiting for it on the sidewalk. We were with Richard Polt, lightly philosophizing and waxing nostalgic. When our car arrived, Dad unveiled the custom powder-coated Selectric that he was doing for Richard as headlights made the metallic finish sparkle.
From behind came a familiar shout and we were shortly joined by Martin Howard and Jeremy Mayer, both of whom had searched for the bar in the Ritz only to find it closed. I don’t know why they decided to go outside instead of retiring for the night when they had to roll by 8am whilst it was a quarter after midnight. That wasn’t a question I had at the time, but it has occurred to me since that that was fortunate.
The six of us talked under the lights of the Ritz-Carlton’s awning for a few minutes; it was one of those moments that you know will end shortly but wish would continue for hours.
The two hour ride home was spent in introspection and contemplation. I thought back to my first machine and walked through the list of events that led me to the ride back from the film festival. The death of a relative in 2003. My first typewriter in 2012. The trashed HH I tried to save the following year that unknowingly introduced me to Richard Polt through a phone call. The Cincinnati Spring Type-In in 2014. Herman’s meeting.
Until that moment, after spending the night under high-end lighting and sharing a uniquely human moment in the cold, I had never realized exactly how deep my connection with the typewriter was and how much it had changed my life. Everything about me is different now… partly by way of maturing, but mostly because of events brought to bear as a result of my first machine five years ago. Five years – how fast time has passed. But I digress.
California Typewriter is well worth the wait, and I highly recommend it. For further review of the night’s events check out Richard Polt’s post here: The Typewriter Revolution – “California Typewriter” Gala in Cleveland.
I’m Typemonkey for The Daily Clipper, and that’s the 6:00 news. Goodnight.