California Typewriter

Synopsis: California Typewriter is a story about people whose lives are connected by typewriters. The film is a meditation on creativity and technology featuring Tom Hanks, John Mayer, Sam Shepard, David McCullough and others.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Doug Nichol
Production: Gravitas Ventures
  3 wins & 5 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
103 min



(wind noise)

(engine revving)

- Sunday, August 21st, 1966.

A perfect day for an execution.

Approximately 122 miles

southwest of Las Vegas,

a 1963 Buick LeSabre,

license plate FUP744,

is hammering along US

highway 91, Interstate 15.

- Ed was driving my

car, a '63 Buick.

Pat Blackwell was

in the backseat with

all his camera stuff.

I had a typewriter with me

and it was Ed's typewriter.

One of the feet was broken

off of it and I said,

man, I don't have any

place to put my feet.

So I said, I'll buy you

another typewriter, Ed,

let's throw this

thing out the window.

And he said, toss it.

- [Darren] At 5:
07 PM, the

passenger window rolls down.

- We saw a flat place

up ahead and I said,

okay, get her up to

90 miles an hour and

at the right moment,

I just tossed it.


(engine revving)

- The wreckage stretches along


189 feet of asphalt

and Nevada desert.

- Either me or Ed said,

you know we should go back

and photograph that.

If there was ever an

investigation of this,

was it an accident

or was it a murder?

(plinky piano notes)

It was too directly

bound to its own anguish

to be anything other

than a cry of negation,

carrying within itself, the

seeds of its own destruction.

- Ed Ruscha and Mason

Williams' Royal Road Test

is still one of

my favorite books.

It looks like a

technical manual,

it's a little yellow,

spiral bound notebook.

The kind of thing that

you might have received

as an instruction manual

with any Royal typewriter.

- Scene of strewn wreckage.

Figure in foreground

points to impact area,

there is no real

explanation of it,

you're just kind of confronted

with the bald facts of it

and these really stark

black and white photos.

The kind of thing that

you might see if someone

was investigating a crime scene.

- [Mason] Carriage assembly.

- Then you're left trying

to make sense out of it.

(eerie piano notes)

When I found that book,

it was kind of a

definitive moment for me.

I looked at it and

I thought, yeah,

this is the grave

of typewriting,

this is the moment when

it stopped being one thing

and started being

something else.

- [Auctioneer] Here we are

now, Lot 84, Cormac McCarthy's

Olivetti manual typewriter,

on which he has typed all

but one of all of his novels,

including three

not yet published.

And I can open up.

It is on the left at

$45,000, $48,000, $50,000.

$60,000, 70,000.






$120,000, you came all this way.





Wanna say $210,000?



Last chance, at end

selling, $210,000.


sir, Paddle 623.

(light jazz music)

- We've become

a throwaway society.


depends on your point

of view, I guess.

We'll take care of it

for you, have it fixed

in no time at all, sir.


I've been repairing typewriters

here in Berkeley for 38 years.

You name it, I've

probably worked on it.

The first six or seven

years I was in this business

I ate, drank, slept

Smith Corona typewriters.

The Standards, the Sterlings,

the Clippers, the Silents,

the Super Silents, the

Galaxies, the Classic 125,

the Skywriters.

I like 'em because they've

got a cool, nice touch on 'em.

I think that Smith-Corona

is like a good version

of a Chevy, it holds up.

It's not a Benz like

maybe an Olympia might be,

but it's a good Chevy.




California Typewriters is a

small, family-run business.

It's just the owner Herb,

his daughters, and me.

- You have to push up on here.

- Herb bought the typewriter

shop back in the early 80$.

Just about the time

that personal computer

came on the scene.



He's an ex-IBM guy.

He knows the IBM Selectric

and the ball machine,

but he's probably the

best Selectric guy I know.

I mean, I've worked on a

few, but I can't come close

to his skills on a Selectric.


Herb's got a dream that people

are gonna come back

to typewriters.

- [Carmen] My dad believes

that there are various people

all over the place totally

excited about typewriters.

I think he thinks it's somewhat

of a wave of the future.

That more people are

gonna come back to them,

just for different reasons.

He's hopeful, for sure.

And he's willing to

spend his last dime.



- I probably have 250 plus

typewriters in my collection

and I would say that 90% of them

are in perfect working order.

I've tried to foster a

community of typewriting people

and it hasn't quite worked.

I've given typewriters to folks,

because I have a lot of spares.

And if somebody says,

jeez, I'd like to have a

typewriter to write letters.

It's on their desk

within 48 hours,

with a note from me explaining

the typewriter to them.

I go to their houses later on

and they have it up

on a shelf somewhere

like it's an object of art.

And I say, get that bad boy

down, put it on your desk.

Have it right there

so you can always type

something to somebody.


I type almost every day.

There's usually a memo that

I'm sending to somebody

or a question or a thank you

note or an actual response.

I hate getting email

thank yous from folks.

Hey, we had a great

time last night.

Or, hey, I really

appreciated it.

So, really, you appreciated

it so much that you

took seven seconds

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Randy Sosin

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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