Doug Nichol’s documentary “California Typewriter” is a rich, thoughtful, meticulously crafted tapestry about the evolution of the beloved writing machine for purists, history buffs, collectors and others fighting to preserve or re-embrace analog life.
The film, which first began as a brief look at a struggling Berkeley repair and sales shop called California Typewriter, was expanded to explore the heart and soul of the device as well as to profile a cross-section of typewriter aficionados.
Fans here range from the famous (Tom Hanks, musician John Mayer, author-historian David McCullough, the late Sam Shepard) to the lesser-known: Toronto collector Martin Howard, Oakland-based artist Jeremy Mayer (who creates remarkable sculptures entirely from typewriter parts), the quirky Boston Typewriter Orchestra and others. They prove a captivating bunch.
The film also weaves in the story of inventor Christopher Latham Sholes, who in the early 1870s developed the QWERTY keyboard as well as the world’s first commercially successful typewriter.
Nichol, who also deftly shot and edited the film, never fetishizes or aggrandizes the typewriter, but instead smartly contextualizes its place as a classic symbol of American ingenuity, practicality and style. The irony? Once Jeremy Mayer and the folks at California Typewriter embraced modern technology — that is, the Internet — to help promote their wares, their businesses really took off.
Oscar voters, keep this one in your sights.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles; Arclight Hollywood