US Fest documentary trailer

September 3rd, 2018 10:43 AM
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Almost two years ago, filmmaker Glenn Aveni concluded a successful Kickstarter to produce a documentary about the Us Festival, a concert held today in 1982 and organized by Steve Wozniak. The final DVD was ambitiously scheduled for production for just seven months later, in July 2017. But Kickstarters rarely run on schedule, as good art takes time. So it's just this summer, a year later than planned, that we're seeing the first trailer for the documentary.

While the main attraction for readers of this blog may be Woz, the focus of the documentary is on the festival, not its organizers. While Woz makes appearances in original interviews conducted for this film, the musicians and concert appear to take center stage. That's not surprising — the event was called the Us Festival, not the Woz Festival, after all.

But Kickstarter backers have not received an update since November 2017, and I can't find a website or release date for the film. It's being distributed by MVD Entertainment Group, whose website says the film was released on August 10, 2018 — but they've not responded to emails or tweets indicating where the movie can be seen or purchased.

I'm hopeful the trailer is evidence that the movie is not vaporware and that we will soon have our glimpses of the musical, event-organizing sides of Woz.

(Hat tip to Martin Kielty)

California Typewriter

February 19th, 2018 8:18 PM
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This weekend, I watched California Typewriter, a 2016 documentary about the professional and hobbyist communities surrounding typewriters. A narrative thread weaves through the titular California Typewriter, a family-owned shop in Berkeley, California — but the film's scope encompasses many other typewriter enthusiasts, including Tom Hanks, who's collected over 250 typewriters and who has lent his name to the typewriter-inspired iOS app Hanx Writer.

Typewriters were an essential step in the evolutionary history of personal computers, establishing such standards as the QWERTY keyboard. As a retrocomputing enthusiast, I appreciated the veneration these collectors feel for these classic machines. Offering a dedicated environment in which to focus on one's writing, free from distraction, notifications, or multitasking, is something typewriters and the Apple II have in common.

But I must disagree with a few qualities of the typewriter that were touted as strengths compared to personal computers. I didn't take notes during my viewing, so I'll paraphrase Tom Hanks who said that a personal, typed letter is more likely to survive the ravages of time. He cited an example of a thank-you note that playwright Noel Coward sent in the 1940s and which is now framed and preserved. Hanks pointed out that it's easy to delete an email, and if Coward had been able to send something via that medium, it would've been unlikely to have survived to present day.

But the best way to preserve something isn't to put it in one medium over another — it's to put it in as many hands as possible. Coward's letter is unique and singular; should anything happen to it, there are no copies or means by which to reproduce it. By contrast, something that is digital in origin or which is scanned into a digital format will almost always exist somewhere. Observe the history of Hewlett-Packard, meticulously recorded in hardcopy only and then lost in a fire this past October. Those documents were as irreplaceable as Coward's letter; had they been digitized, they likely would've lasted as long as that letter, too.

The movie also featured musician John Mayer's multiple complaints against electronic documents. First, that they showed no record of how something was created; apparently he's never heard of version control and incremental backups. Second, while he acknowledged that digital files will last forever, he likened it to a trash pile: yes, the files exist, but no one ever goes through them or sees them again.

His statement is likely based on personal experience and is likely true for most individuals: I still have every email I sent in college but haven't looked at them in twenty years. But when it comes to famous individuals or archaelogical artifacts — as both are the case with Ted Nelson — such "trash piles" hold at least as much historical value as a playwright's thank-you note.

I appreciate typewriters and those who admire them, and the California Typewriter documentary drove home their kinship with retrocomputing enthusiasts. Both typewriters and personal computers such as the Apple II have unique strengths that needn't come at each other's weaknesses.

As a bonus, I learned that, just as floppy drives and ImageWriters can be played as musical instruments, so too can typewriters! Witness the Boston Typewriter Orchestra:

An Apple II appearance in Beep!

February 13th, 2017 12:48 PM
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I have a growing collection of documentaries in my watch queue, many of them springing from Kickstarter. If I see a topic I like, I can't help but throw $15 at it — especially if it'll get me a digital copy of the movie, years down the road.

Such is the case with Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound. This movie, crowdfunded in 2014, chronicles the evolution of audio composition technology in the interactive entertainment industry, featuring interviews with composers for such classic games as Marble Madness. A variety of hardware platforms and sound processors are featured, especially the Commodore 64 and its infamous SID chip — but disappointingly, at no point did I hear mention of the Apple II.

But I did see it! In two scenes, the narrators' commentary is overlaid with B-roll footage of convention-goers (perhaps at MAGFest?) using classic computers. At 25:19, the machine on-screen is very obviously an Apple IIGS, though the exact software being demoed is indeterminable; minutes later, at 32:44, an Apple RGB monitor — perhaps the same one previously featured, but from a different angle — can be seen in the background.

Playing an Apple IIGS in Beep documentary

Apple IIGS monitor in background of Beep documentary

Given the breadth and depth that Beep set out to cover, it's unsurprising that they wouldn't have the opportunity to focus on our favorite retrocomputer. But the Apple IIGS's Ensoniq chip was one of the platform's hallmark features, warranting acknowledgement right in the model's name — the 'S' stands for "sound", after all. At least it had its cameo.

For more opinion about Beep, read my review on Gamebits.

A documentary of Woz's Us Festival

December 5th, 2016 9:00 AM
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Steve Wozniak is many things: a technical genius, an entertaining speaker, a movie character, a wax figure. But one of his many accomplishments is often overlooked: music festival organizer.

In 1982, Woz created the Us Festival, a counter to the previous decade's "me"generation. It was designed to bring people together and inspire them with some of the greatest musical names of that era, such as The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, The B-52's, and more. The event was even livestreamed to Russia, despite the ongoing Cold War. The event recurred just months later in 1983, archival footage of which is now available on iTunes.

But what prompted Woz, a known inventor and prankster, to bring his fame and fortune to bear on the music industry? Attending or watching the concerts won't tell you; for that, you need to go behind the scenes. And that's what filmmaker Glenn Aveni plans to do with his documentary, The US Festival 1982, now on Kickstarter.

This project is looking to crowdfund $60,000 by December 20, and it's on track to do so: at the time of this writing, it's more than halfway there. The funds will be used to procure rights to even more archival clips and finish production of the film, which includes interviews with many of the concert's surviving musicians.

I'll support almost anything Woz does. Not only is backing this documentary a way to belatedly support his concert, but Woz himself was interviewed for Aveni's movie. I look forward to hearing tales I haven't heard before about this side of Woz!

(Hat tip to Chris Torrence)

The Terminator runs on 6502

July 18th, 2016 12:48 PM
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Apple II user Rino Mardo recently shared on Facebook a scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Terminator. This 1984 classic with Arnold Schwarzenegger stars a T-800 Model 101 cybernetic organism sent from the future to assassinate Sarah Connor. Despite a nuclear holocaust and the rise of sentient artificial intelligence, Skynet, the computer that created the T-800, still relied on proven, pre-apocalyptic technology to design its chrono-displaced robot: its CPU is a 6502, running assembly programming published in Nibble Magazine.

The Terminator

This Easter Egg isn't news: it was already well-known by the Apple II community even before Nibble founding editor David Szetela mentioned it during his KansasFest 2007 keynote speech. I then wrote about it a few months later in a blog post for Computerworld, a job I started just a few months before Szetela's speech.

The Terminator is one of only many movies that the Apple II has graced with an appearance. Starring the Computer, James Carter's impressive database of computers in movies, lists every Apple II model and the movies and television shows in which is featured. It includes such notable titles as TRON (which turned 34 this month), Hackers (reviewed in Juiced.GS in June 2006), Explorers, Kindergarten Cop, and Lost.

Although that filmography extends to films as recent as Iron Man, the Apple II's modern cinematic career is mostly limited to historical coverage — such as Welcome to Macintosh, the 2008 documentary reviewed in Juiced.GS and now available to view in full for free online.

What are some of your favorite Apple II cameos on the silver screen?

Documentary crowdfunding frustration

July 4th, 2016 7:18 AM
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The Kickstarter for 8 bit generation succeeded, leading to the imminent release of a documentary about 8-bit computers. It was a long road, as the film was marked as "Missing In Action" back in 2012, well after I'd already paid for the DVD.

The Kickstarter promised an unlikely turnaround time: the campaign closed on September 25, 2015, with DVDs to ship just five months later in February 2016. That hasn't yet happened — but while we wait, the producers have launched a second Kickstarter for a second documentary.

"The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary," says the project description, "and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed."

The story of Atari is also the origin story of Apple: Steve Jobs got his first job there; Steve Wozniak developed their Breakout game; and together, before they founded Apple Computer Inc., the Steves tried selling the Apple II to Atari.

But how did the filmmakers spin the Atari content out from the original documentary without detracting from it? Turns out there was a marketing miscommunication: the first film was only the first part of a series, with each installment focusing on a different computer and company. What I thought was a broader overview of the 8-bit generation, and which I backed based on its interviews with Steve Wozniak, turned out to be subtitled The Commodore Wars.

Admittedly, I should've read the project's description more closely: "We resolved to release a single long run episode by the working title of Growing The 8 Bit Generation, focused on the home computer explosion and Commodore role in the personal computer revolution." But I usually count on a Kickstarter's campaign video to detail a project — and this project had no video.

That's not the only reason I feel conflicted about their second Kickstarter. I understand that, logistically, launching another crowdfunding campaign while the first remains unfulfilled makes perfect sense: the first documentary is already content-locked and is in the final stages of production, freeing the directors to begin work on editing another film. But emotionally and politically, it's a gamble, as Comcept discovered with the Mighty No. 9 and Red Ash campaigns. It feels like the directors are asking us to double down.

For almost half a decade now, I've been expecting a DVD of a documentary about Apple and its contemporaries. Such a thing may exist as future installments in this DVD series are produced — but it's not what I've been promised, it's not what I paid for, and I find myself a skeptical customer to be asking for more money and faith from.