Defenders of the Linotype faith

Linotype: The Film, directed by Doug Wilson, 2012, 75mins

Does a 19th-century typesetting machine merit a feature-length film? In the case of the Linotype, the molten-metal spewing hulk of a typewriter-cum-metal-caster that provided the impetus for popular literacy, director Doug Wilson proves so.

His film is being rapturously received at screenings following its DVD release and is recommended viewing for fans of the type-design documentary Helvetica (2007).

Developed through trial, error and hefty investment, the Linotype machine was the invention of Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German-born American who died at the age of 45.

There are two main stories in the film. First, Wilson makes the case that Linotype was the stepping-stone between the Gutenberg press and the worldwide web. The production of books and newspapers increased after its introduction and, the film argues, while this led to a rise in salacious news stories, it also had a role in promoting radical causes. The second story concerns the defenders of the Linotype faith. The machine’s enthusiasts are a cast of type-loving backwoodsmen, poet manqués and Brooklyn hipsters who love the Linotype for its mechanical complexity and tendency to spurt hot metal in an unpredictable fashion.

The brilliant type designer Matthew Carter features as the voice of reason, but his argument that more was gained than lost through subsequent technological developments is set against emotional scenes of a Linotype being broken up for scrap.

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