April 20, 2017
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What’s with Steve Jobs, the New Film?
by Doniphan Blair
The digital revolution in San Francisco, ironically, has begotten less art. illo: Doniphan Blair
15 MINUTES INTO THE NEW FILM
“Steve Jobs”, I felt like walking out.
The film itself, directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”, 1996, “Slumdog Millionaire”, 2008), is gorgeous, with subtle lighting, seamless camera moves and almost no music, until the end. Michael Fassbinder is marvelous (“Inglorious Basterds”, 2009, “A Dangerous Method“, 2011, and now “Macbeth”) and he humanizes the lead.
Au contraire its lackluster performance at the box office, reviewers hailed it as “a new American classic” and the
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
annoited Fassbinder as the year’s Best Actor on December 6th. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet (“Hideous Kinky”, 1998, “The Reader” 2008), plays Jobs’s Girl Friday and is excellent, as always. See for yourself in
Although some reviewers complained of a certain circularity, most applauded the evocative, minimalist script by Aaron Sorkin (“West Wing” (1999–2006), “The Social Network”, 2010), from Walter Isaacson's authorized biography.
It revolves around three thrilling days in Jobs’s life: the debut of the Mac in 1984, the 1988 arrival of the NeXt, the “perfect cube” computer he created after Apple fired him, and the gaudy iMac, in 1998, which his daughter (well-portrayed by Perla Haney-Jardine) derides as “Jane Jetson’s easy-bake oven,” one of the film’s many, very funny but also loaded lines.
So what’s my problem?
Simply put, I adore my daughter. Though I, too, took some time to figure out fatherhood and I, too, separated from my daughter’s mother when she was a small, that adoration inspired me to be with her almost half-time and to become her deveoted cook, butler, chauffer, transport coolie and games partner, not to mention child support payer.
It was hardly a chore, Steve. In fact, it was a heavenly pleasure!
I mean, Steve, PUH-lease!
Everyone knows you had periodic, ongoing conjugal relations with Chrisann Brennan, ever since high school (the very hippie Homestead High in Cupertino, California), right up to nine months before Lisa Nicole Brennan (now Brennan-Jobs) was born in 1978—on a commune, no less, near Portland, Oregon.
Early days Jobs. photo: courtesy Apple
Did Isaacson make that up—it does sound too good to be true? On top of which, that was shortly after you returned from your second India trip (1976)—didn’t you learn anything there about karma?
Jobs and his friend Daniel Kottke, from Reed College (another super-hippie institution), travelled together through India but failed to find their hoped-for guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who died shortly before their arrival. Along the way, Jobs contracted lice, scabies and dysentery (losing 40 lbs), and barely dodged a mob ass-kicking “after he protested at being sold watered-down buffalo milk,” according to the India Times (10/7/2011).
Yes, Steve, I understand, your blood parents abandoned you—as is pointed out early in the movie by John Scully, the Pepsi exec who took over Apple (another star turn for the versatile, avuncular Jeff Daniels) but who still became a father figure—BUT, really, did you want to stay with those people?
You didn’t even bother introducing yourself to your actual father, a Syrian immigrant, who served you lunch occasionally at his Silicon Valley restaurant, even after you went through the enormous effort of locating your birth parents (Jobs reasoned that his father was untrustworthy, might be jealous of his wealth and even blackmail him).
At any rate, isn’t the whole damn point of EVERYTHING we learned in India (I, too, was there, the year before you) to break the cycle of birth, to use the mind to solve physical problems, to transcend limitations? And your mind was certainly powerful enough.
Another amazing side story, which the film doesn’t explore (given it would require a whole ‘nother film—a complete tragedy, this time), is when Jobs finally finds his mother, he learns he has a younger sister, a full-blood sibling, who is also a talented artist, a novelist, in fact, with whom he becomes close.
The Greek tragedy aspect of his adoption is the fact that, on top of his parent’s youth and still being in college, his mid-Western grandfather was Muslim-phobic and threated to disown his mother if she kept a child with “that man.”
After the grandfather died, however, his parents felt no similar compunction with their next child, Mona (born 1957; Jobs was 1955–2011). Coincidentally, Mona Elizabeth Simpson also lost touch with her father after he got his PhD and moved back to Syria to “give back” to his community, a dislocation that precipitated their parent’s divorce.
Currently an English professor at UCLA AND Bard College (another flaming hippie institution), Simpson is the author of six well-received novels, including her first, “Anywhere but Here” (1986), which won awards and became a film by the same name (1999), directed by Bay Arean Wayne Wang and starring Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon.
Joanna Hoffman confronts Jobs (Michael Fassbinder, Kate Winslet, in Danny Boyle's 'Steve Jobs'). photo: courtesy
That book’s sequel, “The Lost Father” (1992) concerns her attempt to reconnect with her father, who was utterly irresponsible in the address-forwarding department. But her next book is even more penetrating.
“A Regular Guy” (1996) concerns a Silicon Valley billionaire who doesn’t recognize a daughter born out of wedlock, no less. Evidently, Jobs accepted Simpson as an artist and didn’t hold the book against her. Big of you, Steve.
Yes, you too were a phenomenal artist and visionary who shouldn’t have had every one of your actions held against you. Yes, you provided important leadership to the group that changed computing, and in the process the world, not to mention San Francisco. But how about the art of life instead of just the art of tech?
For these reasons, for me to spend two superlative cinematic hours, during which I would undoubtedly be seduced into sympathizing with the film’s protagonist, made me want to puke.
Within its first few minutes, Jobs has denied his daughter’s paternity, called her mother a whore, told his daughter that his early computer was not named LISA in her honor but because there is such a thing as a “Local Integrated System Architecture” (there isn’t) and refused to pay child support, despite already being worth HUNDREDS of millions,
I’m glad I stayed, of course, given “Steve Jobs” reveals as much about what happened to the Bay Area as to Jobs, not to forget the smoking cinema chops of Doyle, Sorkin, Fassbinder and Winslet, even though, as Joanna Hoffman, she didn’t get her accent rolling until the second reel. She does get the film’s best line, however:
Jobs: And why haven’t we slept together?
Hoffman: Because we are not in love.
Not only is it funny and well-motivated, that’s the film’s subtext in a nutshell: the conflict between form and content, engineering and feeling, art of object or of subject.
A related line was delivered by Seth Rogen, who was finally allowed to step out of his standard haze, internal and external, to play Steve Wozniak, Jobs’s partner since high school (who probably didn’t make his fair share off their inventions).
Despite being an engineer, The Woz is suffused with feelings and decency. As Steve W. tries to tell Steve J., from the audience just before another product unveiling:
Latter day Jobs. photo: courtesy Apple
“It is not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”
Fortunately, for the sake of balance, Sorkin’s script gave Jobs an earlier zinger on Wozniak, as he struggles to say something meaningful:
“I don’t have time to wait for you to come up with an appropriate metaphor.”
Look Steve, as a sort-of-artist myself, I sympathize deeply with your dedication to craft, creativity and excellence—including making the unseen at the same level of excellence as the seen, an obviously mystical concept directly related to karma. I’m also well-aware of the need to cut the crap, avoid distraction, move past failure and get on with the job at hand.
In fact, I have supported you, over your nemesis Bill, ever since 1987 when I ditched my PC to became a Mac Man, going way over budget to buy the primitive but still spectacular Apple SE for $3000. That’s the equivalent of $6000 today, making the old SE twice the price of today’s top-of-the-line, rocket-fast and gorgeously-designed MacBook Pro (on which I now enter this article).
There is no argument, Steve: your drive, design dedication and marketing genius has put a lot of burning hot, art-making and communication equipment into the hands of hundreds of millions.
Indeed, your marvels may even exceed current top contenders for most beautiful and functional machines: the bicycle, the Bolex 16mm crank camera, the Lamborghini. And since form follows function, your machines inherently inspire art, no shocker from the man who proclaimed:
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
All well and good, Steve, excellent even, but the big question remains:
Is our art-making and communication qualitatively better for it? Is “Steve Jobs” a fair fight with the similar “Citizen Kane” (1941)? Can four-word Facebook conversations compare with ten-page, ink-pen written letters dripping perfume?
The trick to modernism, I believe, and I assume you’d agree, is the future has to QUALITATIVELY improve on the past, a salient question for those us in the Bay Area.
Now that we are the richest area in the world, with immense disposable income, not to mention almost everyone has at least three or four of those beautiful machines, will we ever generate another poetry movement, rock scene, comedy explosion (see
in this month’s CS) or other art movement of significance?
Or is just tech, tech, and more beautiful and powerful tech from here on out?
Woz confronts Jobs (Michael Fassbinder, Seth Rogen in Danny Boyle's 'Steve Jobs'). photo: courtesy
I have been putting this question to Bay Areans for a year now: the younger ones think we might still pull off more art; the older ones, who remember the glory days, deride the notion as ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong, Steve, the tech revolution is fantastic, out of this world, still hard to fathom, even. But, quantum level-speaking, is it bigger than when my mother got electricity and running water as a child in Poland, or my dad got the radio as a pre-teen in Cleveland, or my grandfather the automobile?
Of course, this tech revolution is more about communication and art. Moreover, the “people’s tech revolution” really did take off with your first Mac in 1984, in obvious contradiction to Orwell’s prediction, even while opening doors to Orwellian control.
Even more amazingly, art-wise, was when you were ignominiously expelled from Apple in 1985, you transferred part of your golden parachute to found Pixar Animation, paying “Star Wars” director George Lucas $5 million for his animation software and another five large to jump start the work of Dr. Edwin Catmull and Dr. Alvy Ray, both computer science PhDs turned artists, oddly enough.
In fact, Pixar has been the only widely-known “Art Movement by the Bay” over the last two decades (save for Burning Man), producing a historically unprecedented 16 films, of which well-over 90% are critically and popularly acclaimed hits—based largely on your vision. Alas, Pixar is the exception that proves the rule.
A moment in the film’s final reel is telling: Lisa is 18; she and her father have become friends; Jobs does pay support, although, at that exact moment, he has lapsed on her Harvard tuition—it was covered by yet another sensitive engineer, Andy Hertzfeld, played by Michael Stuhlbarg.
Jobs points at Lisa’s Walkman, the smallish cassette tape recorder we all adored in the ‘80s, and complains how ugly it is, “like a brick hanging off you.” He goes on to say he is about to replace it with a cute, tiny, as yet unnamed device (the iPod), that will hold over 500 songs, or 1000, or perhaps 750—he’s simply not sure.
The scene testifies to your obsession with numbers as well as design but, Steve, did you ever ask Lisa, “Who are you listening to? Can I hear a bit?”
Although a great artist yourself, you channeled your art into your machines and missed the more elevated notions of art, humanity and generosity, much as you missed meeting Neem Karoli Baba in India, although some claim you retained an interest and the only book on your iPad was “Autobiography of a Yogi” (Yogananda, 1946).
End days Jobs. photo: courtesy Apple
Nevertheless, the Bay Area, as well as the tech-dependent world, has made you their number one secular saint, despite Bill Gates’s and now Mark Zuckerberg’s massive philanthropy and Apple’s misuse of Chinese workers, partial collaboration in gutting the music business, and almost-$200 billion in profits, now sitting idle in off-shore banks.
Even though the Apple stores and their “geniuses” are considered a clean, high-tech heaven by most people, those super-friendly and fresh-faced kids are undoubtedly underpaid.
Don't you ever think about "giving back", just as your blood father attempted to do, a pretty noble gesture, towards his ill-fated birth nation, Syria?
Ironically, despite “Steve Jobs”’s great reviews, the public has rejected the film as insufficient hagiographic. Indeed, “the movie tanked at the box office, earning [only] about $18 million in the seven weeks after its Oct. 9 release,” according to Nick Bilton (NY Times, 12/2/15).
“Perhaps Hollywood had overestimated the public’s fascination with the man,” Bilton continued. “But perhaps most surprising is the way in which Silicon Valley relished in, and contributed to, the film’s demise.”
Jobs’s Silicon Valley stalwarts evidently assumed he could not possibly have been so mean-spirited; or that the film shouldn’t have focused on that; or that Isaacson must have made things up, even though the only change Jobs asked for, after reviewing Isaacson’s draft, was changing the book cover. He naturally redesigned it to a clean elegance, with an arty B/W photo of himself.
Regardless of the details, Steve, what are we going to do with your art-making and communication gizmos? We are certainly well-positioned with our collective trillions, talent, scenery and international perspective, as well as ecological achievement—something N. Cal can truly be proud of, along with the digital revolution—to tell desperately-needed stories.
Alas, it appears as if those jobs, as it were, will have to be outsourced to Los Angeles. Let us all pray, or secularly hope, they have the soul, or nondenominational deep sense, despite some longueurs in that department, to do the hard work required because N. Cal’s narratives, music and other arts are depending on them.
Oh look! “Steve Jobs” was produced in Burbank, California by
. Great work, folks, keep the honest, insightful and beautifully-made movies coming, despite complaints from the Sili-billionaires and their minions.
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker ('
Our Holocaust Vacation
'), who can be reached
Posted on Dec 09, 2015 - 11:08 PM