What’s Goin’ On

In Praise of the Typewriter

New doc celebrates low-tech writing tool


Millennials will probably think of it as a history lesson in old-school texting and hipsters might appreciate the same retro vibe as vinyl. But movie audiences of a certain age are likely to feel a nostalgic twinge for the clatter and ding of "California Typewriter," a documentary about the machine that revolutionized the written word.

"Unorthodox and delightful," says The Hollywood Reporter.

The film, opening August 11 in New York and Los Angeles, was written and directed by Doug Nichol, who won a music video Grammy Award in 1994 for his work on Sting's "Ten Summoner's Tales" and was the director of photography on Madonna's 1988 documentary "Truth or Dare."

Nichol's latest labor of love, five years in the making, celebrates the century-old technology with help from Tom Hanks, who has collected more than 250 manual typewriters. "Ninety percent of them are in perfect working order," he notes.

Fellow fans of bygone brands like Brother, Royal and Smith-Corona include musician John Mayer, playwright/actor Sam Shepard and the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, which delivers a hunt-and-peck performance.

The documentary's title character, however, is the repair shop in Berkeley, California, that dates back to 1949. The owner reports that business is better than it was a decade ago, though its days may be numbered. The total number of factories producing typewriters today: one, in India.

But that doesn't stop Nichol from delivering a rousing Typewriter Manifesto. "We affirm the written word and the written thought against multimedia, multitasking and the meme," it says, in part.

Historian David McCullough is an enthusiastic supporter, pointing out that he still writes on the same typewriter he bought in 1965.

"There's a tactile satisfaction in it that's part of our humanity," says the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Truman" and "John Adams."


Photo: American Buffalo Pictures