Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview runs this weekend and next at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. While not a hagiography of any sort the film certainly doesn’t contain the last word on Jobs. There’s already Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) and upcoming a biopic starring Ashton Kutcher as Jobs as well as a separate biopic about Jobs penned by Aaron Sorkin. The following interview with The Lost Interview director Robert X. Cringely originally ran in Free Press Houston last year.
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview grabs your attention and doesn’t let up until the last word is uttered. This documentary culled from what was up until now lost footage presents nothing more (or less) than a talking head of one of the great thinkers of our time. You cannot look away. In the tradition of great movies that are conversation based SJ:TLI presents ideas and concepts in such a fashion that the viewer feels smarter after watching than when they started.
“It’s My Dinner with Andre the Nerd,” laughs director Robert X. Cringely. Cringely (the pen name of Mark Stephens) is in a unique place to make observations about the computer industry, having been one of the first employees at Apple in 1977. Bob currently writes a popular technology blog called I, Cringely. In 1992 he penned an absorbing book about the rise of the founders of personal computers, Accidental Empires. A couple of years later Cringely made the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires, which was eventually aired in 60 countries. It’s from this documentary that Cringley assembled the approximately 70 minutes of Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview.
“The master tapes went missing while being shipped by air,” notes Cringely. Recently a colleague found a copy of the full interview session with Jobs on a PAL VHS videotape. In Nerds “we only used about 10-minutes of Jobs’ talking.” The film shows a young Jobs talking humbly about his status as a computer tycoon (he was worth over $100-million at the time). At the same time Jobs challenges the audience with his assessment of the rise of the machine. Jobs mentions pivotal moments in his life like when he took a tour of the Xerox research lab in 1974. “I was blinded by the graphic user interface.”
Subjects covered include the history of personal computers like the HP 9100, when he and Steve Wozniak met, how they made black boxes that created AT&T tones and were able to make free long distance calls. They called the Vatican and woke up the Pope. Other subjects covered are desktop publishing, the computer “Lisa” a predecessor to the Mac, and how for years in movies and television the tape drive was used as an icon for computers.
Moments like when Jobs tells Cringely that “programming a computer teaches a person how to think” and “it’s a disease thinking that a great idea is 90-percent of the work” are axioms that ring as true now as they did then.
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview may be the fastest turn around from found footage to a theatrical release as the creators started working on the project about a month ago. “We haven’t even had time to think about the disc release,” says Cringely.
– Michael Bergeron