"California Typewriter" is the name of a typewriter repair shop that’s been open for 38 years in Berkeley, California. It’s run by its founder, Herb Permillion who used to work for IBM, helped out by a team of dedicated assistants who seem to have been working there forever.
But who uses typewriters any more, or needs to have them mended? Plenty of people, it turns out! Tom Hanks owns 250 of the machines, including several of his favourite Smith Corona brand whose keyboards, according to Hanks, deliver the crispest and most satisfying ‘snap’ anyone could ask for.
The playwright Sam Shepard was another enthusiast who loved the physical demands of feeding the paper into the roller, and striking the individual keys to get his thoughts going. Unlike the word processor, ‘You can see the ink flying onto the paper’, and that, for a writer, counts for much.
Then there are collectors like the Canadian Martin Howard who’s been amassing early examples of the machine for many years, his current ambition being to get his hands on one of the original, fabulously rare Sholes and Glidden models…he’s just met a guy who owns 15 of them.
Finally, there is this very cool sculptor who, with amazing inventiveness, uses the ‘inner life of the typewriter’ to fashion marvellous life-size human and animal sculptures out of discarded parts. The Godrej factory in India – last remaining working typewriter factory in the world – has just closed its doors, but he’s lucky to have been invited to visit the place and to take from the factory conveyor belt whatever bit of machinery catches his fancy…
These and other enthusiasts constitute a fascinating freemasonry. Doug Nichol’s beautiful film is an antidote to the curdled quarrelsomeness of so much of the American life in the epoch of Donald Trump. Here, in front of our eyes, we are witness to a completely “human” set of values – individualistic certainly, but at the same time generous, humorous, and dedicated to the mysteries of craftsmanship.
Doug Nichol is an American filmmaker and commercials/music video director. A graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, he started his career as a cinematographer working with David Bowie, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and U2 and was director of photography on Madonna's Truth or Dare documentary (1991). He won a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales (1994) and also received two other Grammy nominations for work with Aerosmith and NKOTB. He has won several MTV awards including Best Rock Video for Aerosmith’s Pink (song). His music video for "This is Hardcore" by Pulp (1998) has consistently been listed as one of the top music videos of all time. In 2016 he directed "California Typewriter".