James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
The world has been in love with the mythos of the mercurial genius behind Apple’s greatest successes and failures. Since Steve Jobs’ death, countless cash grabs have been aimed to capture said genius with depictions of what made him tick. A brilliant mind is near impossible to capture within one character, especially a character as flawed as Jobs. However, the legend of Jobs has been so convoluted with hearsay and stories that it’s been difficult to realize what is reality and what is fiction.
Three highly profiled films have been released within as many calendar years about the former face of Apple. The films in question are JOBS (2013), the documentary film STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE (2015), and finally STEVE JOBS (2015).
Each have their own motivations and outlooks on what has become nothing short of a fairytale. There shouldn’t be any piece of art that depicts engineering “nerds” hanging out in a garage in Los Altos, California as fascinating, but alas here we are still hanging onto every piece of information we could absorb about the man who put 1,000 songs into our pockets.
The method behind the motivation is important to making a successful film. Each filmmaker had their own muse – some noble, others utterly embarrassing – when setting out to make their respective projects.
The Motive: Somebody had an idea, a brilliant idea to make a movie so overly sentimental about Steve Jobs that it rendered any logic to his story as the world’s most celebrated innovator completely obsolete. The surface level idea is to paint this man as a Walt Disney for the modern age and to present the man on a hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been done and since the bullet points of his life are widely known—like the failure of the LISA computer, his refusal to acknowledge his daughter, his obsessive behavior— the claustrophobic scripting leaves little room for any drama. It’s a shame that he wasn’t vilified for the sake of audience intrigue. Word is that screenwriter, Matt Whiteley, hired a team to peruse through countless records and interviews to get the most accurate film possible. Oh, and Ashton Kutcher played the titular role, so that’s something to think about.
The Outcome: It would be a complete and total embarrassment if anybody cared about this project, even a little bit. Although JOBS more that doubled its return box-office wise against $12 million, the film was considered an utter failure given the horrendous reviews. And not to mention Kutcher gave an overwrought performance (complete with the Jobs’ slight hunch). JOBS only goes surface level, so much so that even a movie about the guy ordering at iHOP would have been more engrossing. Kutcher and the other filmmaking team did their research, which is commendable, but they needed to take a note from the man they were idolizing and “Think Different.”
The Motive: Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) didn’t set out to make a fact-based drama recreating the life of Jobs, but a Hollywood re-imagining of what went on behind the scenes of three keynote speeches in 1984, 1988 and 1998. Sorkin’s carousel of emotions in the dialogue is difficult to keep up with, but not in a confusing or stilted way. His dialogue is like music and demands to be listened to and studied, much like the titular subject of the film.
This emotional depth is concealed and congealed with the style of director Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) who all but tricks the audience into thinking we are watching a standard biopic. By disarming the viewer’s perspective, he is able (along with Sorkin, and the great Michael Fassbender as Jobs) to mask the emotional layers with the quippy walk-and-talk dialogue that’s become Sorkin’s signature dish.
The Outcome: What was executed was bold, but it takes a special kind of filmmaking talent and collaboration to make a vision like this work. And it definitely works in several ways.
This is a Hollywood post-modern approach to the biopic that has been snatching up awards year after year for some time now. There are definitely embellishments in these films, but where they are we may never know exactly. However, this is what makes Hollywood, well, Hollywood– and without pushing, whimsy Boyle, Sorkin and company designed a piece of art that very well could be a definitive piece on the aforementioned mythos of Steve Jobs. Only time will tell.
The Motive: Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney took on this subject after the vast outpouring of grief that occurred after the death of Jobs. He largely takes a journalistic stand point to presenting the fact by going through his life, whether it be taking full credit for the work of others or his less than desirable relationship with his daughter. Both have been covered extensively, but not under the keen eye of Gibney, who uses interviews from those who worked closely with Jobs to uncover something potentially sinister.
The problem with going into this subject is the inconsistencies with memories that have dated back to the 1970s and beyond. Gibney, like all documentarians, is curious about his subjects. However, his first person narration provides one only one perspective: a sincere outlook that serves as a meditation rather than presents concrete facts.
The Outcome: It’s a harsh conclusion that paints Jobs as a freedom fighter for the counter culture that made Apple the most lucrative company on the planet to date. The rather stark outlook on Jobs in no way is attempting to tarnish his image (nor is that Gibney’s intention); the film comes off a truthful with an objective stand-point. Those who are looking to know what made the genius that is Steve Jobs tick need not apply.
. . .
All three of these approaches to the folklore behind Steve Jobs have earnest approaches that respected the legacy by presenting the public with an eclectic mix of perceptions. They could have chosen any polarizing figures to cover, from Fidel Castro to George W. Bush, but they are simply not enough. Attaching the name “Steve Jobs” packs a punch that raises questions about the past and gives us motivation to look out for these tells in the future.