The 39th Denver Film Festival — Day Three


California Typewriter repairman Ken Alexander at work
California Typewriter repairman Ken Alexander at work

California Typewriter takes its title from one of the last typewriter repair shops in America. Located in Berkeley, California Typewriter was opened over 30 years ago by Herb Permillion, an IBM repairman. Apple released the personal computer one year after Permillion opened up shop, but that didn’t deter him or his longtime repairman, Ken Alexander. Both men believed in the typewriter and knew that if they held on long enough, the typewriter would come back into vogue. They might be right, but they also might lose their shirts. With passion like this, who cares if you lose it all?

But Permillion and Alexander aren’t the only typewriter faithful, and first-time director Doug Nichol assembles an impressive line-up of typewriter enthusiasts: Tom Hanks, John Mayer, Sam Shepard, David McCullough, Mason Williams, collector Martin Howard, and sculptor Jeremy Mayer, who uses typewriter parts to manufacture magnificent works of art, to extol the virtues of this magnificent machine.

Part of California Typewriter is an exuberant embrace of an analog world, and that part comes through loud and clear. But when California Typewriter is at its best, it explores how technology influences artistic expression. No one in the doc thinks the typewriters will ever replace the computer—all of them rely on the internet and social media to either promote their work or hunt down typewriters—but they all understand that a typewriter can give you something that the word processor can’t. For Hanks, it’s the aesthetic appeal of creating a piece of history. For Mayer, it’s a way to unlock his creativity without pausing to edit (Mayer perfectly describes the process of writing as “Paving a road and driving on it at the same time”). For Howard, it is the object of his obsession.

No matter how connected/dependent you are on digital technology, California Typewriter will make you want to run out and find your own typewriter, if for no other reason than to delight in the clack of the keys and the ding of the bell.


Olivia Cooke
Olivia Cooke

Katie (Olivia Cooke, phenomenal and heartbreaking) is a hooker with a heart of gold. When one of her johns asks how much he owes her, she asks for $11 but takes $9 because that’s all he has. And she does it with a smile because Katie believes in the goodness of people. She’s somewhat foolish for thinking so, but some spirits just can’t be broken.

Written and directed by Wayne Roberts, Katie Says Goodbye is a magnificent piece of heart-wrenching cinema. Katie lives in an Arizona trailer park with her deadbeat mother (Mireille Enos), works as a waitress at the local truck stop for Maybelle (Mary Steenburgen)—a woman who’s seen it all and then some—and turns tricks on the side so she can move to San Francisco and go to beauty school. Everything seems to be clicking until a brooding bad boy (Christopher Abbott) steals Katie’s heart and throws a monkey wrench into this small town’s tentative balance.

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” The town that Katie lives in has been broken time and time again. The people who call this town home are just as broken, and so is Katie, but she is one of the lucky few that can become stronger because of it. Maybe even in spite of it. Cooke gives a tour de force performance that Roberts smartly captures in a series of long takes. The end tells us that this is merely Volume One of three. How impatient I am for the next two installments.