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Typewriter Documentary Taps Into Much Good Will

The Typewriter (In the 21st Century), Christopher Lockett’s quick-as-a-brown-fox documentary, made a quiet Washington debut in June when it played at the Newseum. Now the rest of us can catch up (on Hulu) with this endearing ode to Royals, Remingtons and IBM Selectrics of yore, while upending the assumption that they’ve all gone the way of the dodo.

Interviewing repairmen (and two repairwomen), artists, authors, professors, graphic designers and not one, but two poets-on-demand, Lockett makes a convincing case that typewriters aren’t just here to stay but that, as masterpieces of engineering, design and durability, they really never went away. After a brief tutorial on the cultural impact of the 19th-century invention of a typing machine — the most significant effect being the rise of women in offices —- The Typewriter focuses on the iPad generation’s rediscovery of old-fashioned typing, and the ensuing development of a passionate typewriter subculture that includes collectors, blogs, “type-ins” and even one inventor who has dreamed up a USB-friendly version.

An impressive number of artists and writers still work on typewriters: Sam Shepard, Woody Allen and novelists Larry McMurtry and Harry Crews are some of the most famous. Typewriter stalwarts Robert Caro and David McCullough eloquently explain why the permanence, commitment and recorded revisions of a typed manuscript allow them to take their time, think more deeply and write award-winning books. (One preservationist recalls a youngster being introduced to a typewriter, happily bashing away at the QWERTY keyboard and then yelling, “Where’s the ‘Enter’?”)

Oh, and all you heritage-happy hipsters wearing earrings made of old typewriter keys? Not. Cool.

“The Typewriter” loses momentum and visual interest toward its conclusion, as it becomes talking-head-heavy and repetitive. Still, Lockett has made a valuable and persuasive film that keenly balances instruction and celebration - all without benefit of a narrator. Maybe too persuasive: Having written and filed this review on a generic office laptop, I can’t help but suspect it would have been improved by a run through my long-lost Smith Corona. Long may she shift, backspace and return.

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Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 57 minutes. Available on Hulu.

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