Monday 15 January 2018

Streaming on YouTube - Rod Bishop discovers the doco CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER (Doug Nichol, USA, 2016)

In California Typewriter the musician John Mayer, probably too young for the analogue world, tells us how he exchanged his computer for a typewriter after seeing Don’t Look Back (1967). He was amazed as Bob Dylan played the typewriter keys like a musical instrument, before pulling out his typed page and scratching over and rewriting the lyrics.

The other day, my Foxtel box was fried by lightning in a Sydney thunderstorm. The techie who came to replace it would love California Typewriter. Originally from Hyderabad (“home of VVS Laxman!!”), he believes computer software has already taken over his life.

He showed me his tablet and demonstrated how a software program defines his day – the length of time scheduled for each job, the length of travel time between jobs, the wait-time for available software to ‘handshake’ and get the boxes started again, and the ‘live’ indicators that effectively rank his performance as he moves through the day. “I just drive, open boxes and connect leads. It does the rest of the thinking”.

Tom Hanks and his typewriter collection, California Typewriter
Tom Hanks owns 250 typewriters. Sam Shepard owns one – “When you use a typewriter, you have to feed it paper. There’s a percussion about it. You can see the ink flying onto the surface of the paper. But that puts you in a very different relationship to the modern world.”

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra has plenty of typewriters, but their Pete Townsend-style smash-up of the machines at the end of their set means they have problems replacing the now unmanufactured ‘instruments’. Undeterred, they are currently working on a version of heavy metal band Slayer’s Raining Blood.

"sculptures of people and animals from
discarded typewriter parts", California Typewriter
Artist Jeremy Mayer, inspired by multiple viewings of Metropolis (1927), constructs sculptures of people and animals from discarded typewriter parts. And the Permillion family who still run their California Typewriter repair shop in Berkeley are transiting to the internet to widen their customer base, ironically using the technology that has destroyed their business to save it.

All of them, and many others who appear in Doug Nichols’ charming documentary, would agree with my Hyderabad techie. Digital software is ruining our lives, eliminating tactile sensations from our word-to-paper creativity and losing that all-important trail of mistakes, new thoughts, cross-outs and corrections. How will historians in the future know the steps a Churchill might have taken before his final Darkest Hour oratory? Spell-check and grammar correction are your enemy.

And you can’t play Slayer on a computer keyboard.

You can find California Typewriter on YouTube if you click here
California Typewriter

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