Our relationship to the machines of our trade can be surprisingly emotional. That was one of the take-aways from Linotype: The Film which was screened at Portland’s Kennedy School theater last night. The feature-length documentary, by designer and filmmaker, Doug Wilson, takes us into the world of mechanized typesetting enthusiasts and the object of their devotion: the Linotype machine.
A documentary about typesetting history could have been a dull assembly of process and mechanics. But this was not dull (it did provide tremendous clarity to my fuzzy understanding of how Linotypes worked though) in fact, it had us laughing throughout. The filmmakers captured the stories of the Linotype operators, the passion, and the relationships with their now obsolete machines. For 70 years, Linotype operators were highly skilled craftsmen, essential to the production of busy printing operations. But, by the late 1970’s the machines were rendered obsolete by new technologies and most of the machines ended up in scrap yards. That sense of loss is transmitted fully through this film along with the joy and pride the operators feel about their machines. The ability to create an environment that allows us to feel what the Linotype operators feel about those machines is Linotype: The Film’s real achievement.