Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Documentary Review: Linotype: The Film

Currently available for streaming
on Amazon Prime as of 7/9/14
Linotype: The Film is a documentary about the type set machine that changed how people get information. It is a very complicated piece of machinery that actually does a simple job.


I had no intention of watching this one. I had other films in my queue that were loaded and ready to go. But the picture on the cover drew me in. It looked like one of those Docs that seems like it might be interesting and then you end up shutting it off about 30 minutes into the dull, droning film that would only be interesting to the few people who have been around the subject.

Not this one. Maybe the machine itself carried the documentary, or maybe it was well produced. It's hard to tell because I was so fascinated by the actual subject that I sat and watched the entire thing from start to finish without becoming bored at any point. 

Before 1884 the only way to mass print books, magazines, or any type of literature was to hand select each letter in a line of type. You then lined it up in a form, and then started on the next line until your page was ready to print.Then you "inked" the metal letters and rolled the paper on it. Then you had to put each letter back in their proper bin so that you can start the whole process over for the next page. Just imagine how tedious that would be. It took hundreds of men, days, months, and years to print Bibles or text books for a generation of readers.

A German-born inventor named Ottmar Mergenthaler and his invention, the Linotype, changed everything. Not without lots of trial and error. This "Rube-Goldberg-like" machine acted  like a typewriter.Actually, more like a typewriter on steroids. One line of type (hence the name Linotype) emerged from the machine just from your stroke of the keys, It actually had to pour molten metal into the mold to make the typeface as you went, but all you had to do was type and it did all the work in a beautiful symphony of moving parts, and genius machine engineering. It's a lot more complicated as it sounds. The machine could do the work of 6 men in a fraction of the time.

Go watch this documentary. These machines are so complicated that it takes years to master using them. But up until the 1980's they were the way newspapers and magazines mass produced the information. This was the Drudge report, TMZ, and Weather Channel all delivered to your front door, on time, sometimes two or three editions a day.

The subject matter here alone could have carried this film. But the documentary is well made at the same time. Mainly the interviewees are just enthusiasts who love this piece of history. And it is just that...history. The computer age killed any need for this machine. So what you have left are people who have a love of Americana, history, and beautiful machinery who are determined to keep the legacy of the Linotype alive. Their passion for the machine is infectious enough to keep you riveted for an hour and seventeen minutes. I highly recommend this film.

I give this documentary... 4 stars.


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