Director Doug Nichol has created an engrossing and entertaining documentary about typewriters, those who repair them and those who collect them. The actor Tom Hanks is thrilled with the 250 he has picked up over the years. He uses one every day for typing notes to friends and colleagues. He loves the crisp sound of a Smith-Corona and hammers home the point that the best typewriter ever made has already been made.
Alas, new typewriters are no longer manufactured; the last typewriter factory in the world closed in Mumbai in 2011. California Typewriter in Berkeley remains one of the last repair shops in America. While the public still goes gaga over the latest Apple product, Herbert Permillion III, the African-American owner of the mom-and-pop store, has a hard time paying the bills every month. Ken Alexander, a longtime employee, is very skilled at repairing and restoring a wide variety of machines.
Nichol has assembled a chorus of people from different professions who sing their praises for typewriters. The late playwright and actor Sam Shepard has always written on a typewriter. The prolific biographer David McCullough has used the same machine for all his books; he is very critical of the "hurry sickness" of digital culture and hopes his children and grandchild will treasure his typewriter. Singer/songwriter John Mayer was inspired to write his lyrics on a typewriter after seeing Bob Dylan typing in a film clip; he points out that typed notes are a better representation of the creative process since many lines never make it to a finished song. Martin Howard, a typewriter collector, fills us in on the history of the typewriter as we join him on his quest to find one of the earliest machines.
Whereas most collectors are interested in restoring typewriters to working condition, one artist visits flea markets to find badly damaged machines that he can break up. Jeremy Mayer makes "typewriter assemblage sculptures" out of the pieces. Ironically, some of them are now adorning homes of tech leaders in Silicon Valley.
California Typewriter challenges us to think about our interaction with machines and our underlying relationship with technology. While we are diving for answers, Nichol entertains us with raucous music of The Boston Typewriter Orchestra. Don't be surprised if after watching this delightful film, you find yourself yearning for a typewriter of your own.