DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - On Friday, May 10, the Downtown Independent will begin hosting a weeklong run of a documentary about something never explored so deeply in film: typewriters.
Resist the urge to immediately nap. Christopher Lockett’s passion project The Typewriter (in the 21st Century) traces the rise and evolution of the humble machine. He interviews 30 people in 10 states, everyone from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro to Los Angeles developer and typewriter collector Steve Soboroff to several typewriter repairmen.
Lockett, a 45-year-old Los Feliz resident, spoke about the film that runs at the Downtown Los Angeles theater through May 16.
Los Angeles Downtown News: Of all the things in the world to make a documentary about, why pick typewriters?
Christopher Lockett: There was a 2010 article in Wired magazine called “Meet the Last Generation of Typewriter Repairmen.” I thought, OK, if that machine is going away, and that machine was responsible in some part for every great novel of the 20th century, it deserves a good little sendoff. My producing partner Gary Nicholson was also looking to do something. We talked about the article; he had read it.
Q: How much did the film cost, and how did you get the money?
A: We raised $9,524 on Kickstarter. Plus the gear I already owned, which is barely substantial, and calling in favors left and right from 16 years of working in the industry.
Q: How did the filming go?
A: In one stretch, we shot from Boston to Lexington, Kentucky. We did 10 interviews in 10 states over eight days, while driving through 12 states. It’s the approximate distance of driving from London to Moscow. It’s right at 1,800 miles.
Q: There’s a line in the film that says, “In the 19th century typewriters revolutionized the world of communication.” We think of them as ancient devices. How did this happen?
A: Until the typewriter, we were still a quill or a fountain pen and a handwritten-letter world. There was a printing press but it wasn’t portable and it wasn’t on everyone’s desktop.
The typewriter came along a few years after the Civil War, and there was a shortage in the workplace because many men were dead. There were many jobs where women’s hands were better suited; typing was one of them. One thing in there that is interesting is, in the early days, the person who used the machine and the machine itself were both called typewriters.
Q: You spend time with Soboroff, the developer who has a collection with typewriters that belonged to everyone from Ernest Hemingway to John Lennon to the Unabomber. Did you feel that you hit the mother lode when you saw his collection and sat down with him?
A: Absolutely. Soboroff kind of validates it for a lot of people. He says in the film, “These are the machines where they made the creative work, and I can put my hands on them.” There are very few tools of creative workers that you can touch. Can you pick up Picasso’s brush? Steve let me type on Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter.
Q: Does the typewriter have a future for anything beyond nostalgia?
A: I think it does. Here in L.A. you see the “bicycle culture” that exists on the Eastside. Richard Polt, a professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati — he runs the Typosphere, a group of websites related to typewriters — said that the typewriter is the bicycle of the written communication word. It’s an alternative to the most efficient way to doing things and it’s about enjoying the ride.
Q: You’ve got a May 10 opening night event. What’s going on?
A: There will be 8 and 10 p.m. screenings and Gary and I will do a Q&A between the screenings. Steve Soboroff will bring some of his typewriters; I asked him for Hemingway, Jack London and Orson Welles. There’s also Louise Marler, an artist who makes shirts that say things like “You Are My Type” and “Talk QWERTY to Me.” She’ll have T-shirts and posters. Plus, this is a theater that serves craft beer, so I will be able to relax a little
Contact Jon Regardie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013