Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’
“California Typewriter,” the Mill Valley Film Festival documentary’s title, is a misnomer.
The intriguing film transcends both its reference point, a financially stressed repair shop in Berkeley owned by Herb and Carmen Permillion, and our state — focusing instead on the state of mind that possesses lovers of the antediluvian computer precursor.
San Anselmo resident Doug Nichol directed, photographed and edited the doc, which he informed me in a phone interview was “a passion project.”
He even convinced two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks to become a talking head.
Hanks, who owns nearly 300 typewriters, grumbles on camera that “no one is ever going to make the great typewriter ever again. Boo hoo.”
Though his tone may sound like crocodile tears, his lamentation is real.
Nichol also corralled Sam Shepard, who’s typed out 44 plays, one of which garnered a Pulitzer Prize. While speaking of his faithful typewriter as as he might an alluring woman, that playwright-actor notes: “I just never got along with the computer screen.”
Nichol also shot typewriter worship by historian David McCullough, another Pulitzer winner, and John Mayer, seven-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer.
And then there’s Oakland artist Jeremy Mayer, who matches cannibalized typewriter parts to human parts and sells a lot of his figure-assemblages through social networking.
“I manage to get enough work to almost pay the bills,” he reveals.
Nichol says his main intent was to help the Permillions: “People make documentaries to tackle big problems like world hunger, but this kind of film can do some tangible help for individuals.”
He relished the process.
“I direct major commercials with a lot of people looking over my shoulder, a major collaboration, so I enjoyed working on my own — something very personal, like doing a painting.”
He did virtually all the work himself (“doing six jobs at once”).
Except for a little sound and editing help from Dylan Hurley, a recent USC grad school grad from Fairfax, “a talented kid who’s going to have a big future.”
“California Typewriter,” a 104-minute exercise that doesn’t feel nearly that long, not only features a shot of the initial 1874 Christopher Latham Sholes type-writer that was “intended to take the place of a pen,” it spotlights:
• Dialogue about loving to find a dried spider in a machine because that proves it’s been untouched by human hands forever.
• A clip of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, “Metropolis.”
• Lilting bell sounds.
• A segment in which an Olivetti is sold at auction for $254,000.
• The Boston Typewriter Orchestra, a quintet that turns the machines into drums.
• Soundtrack tunes that range from Chopin and Satie to Cy Coleman.
Conspicuously absent, however, is composer Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter,” a 1950’s novelty.
“California Typewriter” was well received at the Telluride Film Festival, the 56-year-old Marin director has said.
I easily understand why.
Close-ups of typewriter parts in the film become even more compelling, more artsy, more nostalgic, than close-ups of the talking heads.
But not everything in the five-year project went smoothly.
On a shoot in Toronto, “all my equipment was stolen by baggage handlers. I had only two hours to rent new equipment. But I made it.”
Nichol, who became interested in making films in high school (“when I started using my dad’s Super 8”) started as a cinematographer, shot rock ‘n’ roll docs such as Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” and U2’s “Rattle and Hum,” then graduated to music videos for such performers as Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz and then big-time commercials.
He won a Grammy for a Sting video — and has garnered three additional nominations.
How’d he get interested in doing “California Typewriter”?
“By buying an Underwood 5 on eBay for six bucks and then finding the shop in Berkeley. I met the family and immediately liked them. I made a five-minute film for the internet that I thought could help them. Then I met Tom Hanks, who really liked the idea, and the film started having a life of its own. My job became to shepherd it into what it wanted to be.”
Does the USC film school grad who’s lived in San Anselmo since 2001 (after a dozen years in London and Paris) have unfulfilled dreams?
Yes — to do fictional features.
So he’s working on a pair of them right now.
“California Typewriter” will screen at the Sequoia at 3 p.m. Oct. 7 and at the Rafael at 8 p.m. Oct. 10.