It took me a long time to be convinced to get an electric typewriter, then a while to join the computer age. But as a writer, I find computers are a godsend for editing without having to rip out pages from a typewriter and start over, or use large supplies of white-out fluid. But “California Typewriter,” directed by Doug Nichol, celebrates and romanticizes those dedicated to using and collecting the variety of typewriters that have been on the market since their invention in the late 19th century.
You might be surprised at who prize them. The film shows Tom Hanks rhapsodizing about his collection and how much he enjoys typing. He mocks getting thank-you notes via email, but says one typed thank-you letter is something he will keep. The late Sam Shepard talks about how he prefers creating his plays on a typewriter because he finds the process fitting his rhythm. There are others.
The film also shows us a lot of Ken Alexander, who in his California repair shop prides himself on his ability to fix just about any typewriter that he collects or is brought to him. The film makes a point that there are people the world over who adore typewriters, and we are shown various models that have appeared throughout the history of the machine and that are sought by collectors. The film is rich with glorifying information.
However, “California Typewriter” at 104 minutes is oppressively long, going over and over the adoration of the machine that time has basically passed by, except for those who refuse to give up, until one can yearn for the film to end. The director does enhance it with a clever choice of music as background to the dialogue and the surveys. But enough is enough.
Still, the film can hold a measure of interest for anyone who has ever used a typewriter, and it brings back memories for me. In high school I wanted to take a typing course because I had plans to become a journalist. But the teacher in charge said the typing courses were only for those who wanted to be commercial students (all girls in my school). When I argued, she countered that everyone knows newspaper men type with two fingers. Obviously, she had been to the movies.
So I learned to type haphazardly but rapidly with no system. When I went to work for the Associated Press in my first full-time journalism job I tried to learn a proper system, but it was impossible to put to use because I couldn’t type as fast as I had to on the spot and my imrpovised method prevailed and still does as I type this review on my computer.
When I traveled abroad for a year in my youth I took along my portable which was invaluable. Imagine my chagrin when I arrived by ship at the port in Israel and turned briefly away while I had my portable on the deck waiting for me to pick it up and descend, and turned back in time to see a porter pick it up and throw it down the chute like a piece of luggage. The wounded machine never worked well after that. Come to think of it now, I’m sure that Alexander in his California shop could have done wonders with it. Reviewed August 18, 2017.