For a film centered around perhaps the greatest failure in the tech world, the new documentary from directors Sara Kerruish and Matt Maude, General Magic, sure filled me with hope for the future, and caused me to look at the world in a much different way. Isn’t that the point of documentary filmmaking?
Every idea started in the mind of one person. Many of these ideas are linked to a single name. Edison, Einstein, Jobs, Tesla, and many more. In the case of smartphones, many would probably point to Apple’s deceased founder and former CEO Steve Jobs as its flash point. Before seeing this film, the only history I had on the subject was that the iPhone was launched and demonstrated by Jobs in 2007, and now we take advantage of this incredible technology every minute and second of our increasingly-smartphone-driven lives. But the idea did not start with Jobs. In fact, it was not even conceived in our current century. In fact, many of Apple’s former Macintosh team, along with a few other big names in technology in the 80s, formed the company from which this film gets its name, along with a man named Marc Porat. This film chronicles their journey. If you are not familiar with their history (even as someone who is firmly committed to keeping their nose to the ground in these circles, I certainly did not), the film is a much better experience for it. It really is incredible getting to see how such a small group of people have guided our world into what it is today, and not just from objects and technology, but also common vernacular. These are true pioneers, and until now, they have not gotten their due for this historic revelation.
The film is expertly-crafted, weaving together archival footage from General Magic’s personally-hired filmmaker and interviews of the company’s many heads in present day. Seeing the industry as it was back then, as well as the incredible foresight of these men and women was fascinating to watch. The warm and intelligent personalities of General Magic shine through, but the story is not always this grand trick of saccharine sweetness. When the film decides to delve into more personalized struggles, it succeeds just as well as when the audience was at first being wowed by the many ideas which we now perhaps take more completely for granted than any other aspect of our lives. In many ways, I would have almost preferred a limited series on the subject, as I feel the film leaves some room for more personal stories to be told. As it stands, the bigger picture is satisfying, but not enough to make me think I am sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject. If anything, I have now more questions than I did before the film started. I am not saying this as a negative, but simply pointing out that the film could have been longer if the filmmaker’s felt it necessary. Evidently they did not, and whether we are worse off as viewers and consumers of smartphone culture because of it will never be known.