You probably know by now that I have a special love for old timey printing. I love the clanking sounds of the old machines and seeing all their zillion parts move together in an impossibly fluid motion. It's like watching a Rube Goldberg machine, but the finished product is a piece of paper with a perfect (or perfectly imperfect) ink impression on it. And I don't discriminate--Linotype, Heidelberg, old fashioned typewriters--anything that takes a carved piece of type, covers it with ink, then presses down on paper makes me happy.
So I was pretty excited when I heard about this documentary. A tiny film with no distribution just about the Linotype machine?? I had to see it.
I didn't have high expectations, though. In my mind, I categorized it with the documentary Helvetica (yes, a movie about a font), which I thought was good, but not that great. But I ended up being truly impressed! It was a really great film! It was very nicely paced and the talking heads in it were fantastic--funny, informative, passionate. But then again, I wouldn't expect anything less from old wizened men reminiscing about their days as a youngin' working as a Linotype operator. I'd sit on the ground in front of their rocking chairs for hours listening to them if I could.
The film juxtaposed the long past era of the Linotype machine with its current (very) limited world. The "youngest Linotype operator in the world," a guy in Brooklyn, talks about how he learned how to use the machine from a mentor and hopes to pass the knowledge on. The film also features a man who is a traveling Linotype repairman--probably the only person who really knows how to fix and maintain the crazy complicated machines nowadays. All he does is travel on the road with his wife answering calls and replacing Linotype parts. There's also a man who runs a "Linotype University" in Iowa. It's all really fascinating stuff.
One of the great things about watching this film at the International Printing Museum is that a lot of the attendees were true printing fans. Not poser hipsters like me...I'm attracted to these machines, but I know relatively little about them, and I've certainly never used one before. I bet if I went to this screening in NYC the theater would have been full of young people who were there just to watch a niche indie film. But a lot of the crowd at the Museum were actually other old wizened men who worked as Linotype operators when they were young, and they were there to get in touch with their past. After the screening, I saw some of them sit in front of the old Linotypes on display in the Museum and rest their hands on the keyboard. They had wistful and dreamy looks on their faces. It was really moving...I may have teared up. Maybe.
The other great thing about watching with this crowd was the Q&A after the film. It was great! Everyone asked insightful questions. I've been to enough Q&As with directors to expect the same lame questions to come up every time, but this one was really good.
Oh, there was also a raffle for those who attended the screening. I told N beforehand that of all the raffles I've ever been entered in, this is the only one I've ever wanted to win. And guess what. I WON.
My name was drawn FIRST! N could not believe it. I think he still doesn't believe it. I knew it would happen, though ;)
I got first pick at the various prizes they had available--some large metal slugs, candy, a book. But I already knew what I would take. And here it is:
In case it's not clear (and I'm sure it isn't), it's a custom-made stand that displays your metal slugs! Remember the ones N and I got of our names from the printers fair? I love them but I didn't really know what to do with them...this stand solved that problem. It has an angled notch where you place your slug so the words on it are conveniently reflected in the mirror and you can read them frontwards. Genius! And in case you didn't notice--we used this latest trip to the Museum to spend another dollar on getting a slug made with Stewie's name on it.
The Museum created these stands for a client to give out at some convention, and this was one of the leftovers. It says "Linotype-Hell" on it because Linotype merged with a company called Hell at some point. A docent told a story of how competing companies would call Linotype-Hell just to hear them pick up and say, "Linotype Hell!" to which they'd respond, "IT SURE IS!" and hang up. Harhar.
Nowadays, Linotype is still around but doesn't deal with printers at all anymore. But you might recognize the name in your font menu--they design all kinds of typefaces and fonts.