By Anita Felicelli
Hollywood's Idea of Innovation in "Jobs"Uploaded: Aug 20, 2013
Last weekend, I went to "Jobs," the Steve Jobs biopic, at Palo Alto Square with my mother (who has been part of the tech industry in Silicon Valley since 1984). I wanted her to tell me what she thought of the depiction of the Valley during the '80s and '90s. The biopic was so thin, there was nothing to do discuss afterward. It could have been enjoyable?if it were a made for television movie.
Surprisingly, the problems were not because of Ashton Kutcher who managed to adopt a number of Jobs' mannerisms. Rather, the screenwriter seemed to have a lot of trouble deciding whether he was telling the story of Jobs the man or Jobs the visionary.
The script ultimately focused itself around a number of Jobs' aphorisms. We get bits and pieces of the most interesting aspects of Jobs' life?his auditing of a calligraphy class in college, his trips to India, his acid trip, his refusal to acknowledge his daughter? without getting any real insight into the man. In the end, Jobs sacrifices a fascinating true tale for a cheap Hollywood revenge story.
How ironic that a movie about one of our great innovators was so hackneyed and schmaltzy. Or maybe it's not so surprising because Hollywood itself so rarely innovates?except when it comes to special effects, which are often produced by tech companies.
Most of the drama in Jobs simply copied the thrust of another Hollywood film, Aaron Sorkin's "The Social Network." While I'm all for brutal honesty in books, art and film, there's nothing honest about a biopic that lacks insight into its subject.
Recently I've noticed a trend related to Hollywood's difficulty with both Silicon Valley and innovation. It's become popular for the media outside Silicon Valley to critique the Valley's claims of "innovation" and its various failures, include what some people perceive as a failure of philanthropy. I'm thinking of such writing as George Packer's essay in The New Yorker and Rebecca Solnit's piece about the Valley in The London Review of Books and elsewhere.
These are interesting, thoughtful, worthwhile pieces, but they are not insider's stories, they are critiques from just outside Silicon Valley. It's dubious, from my perspective, that such critiques could actually lead to a solution. A sustainable solution to a problem comes with the insight that insiders possess.
As Solnit points out, Silicon Valley has very little interest in filmmakers, artists, publishers, or historians?the people who might best be able to tell and preserve what's most interesting about it from inside. Most artistically inclined people can't afford to live here. This in spite of the fact that significant financial resources, technological know-how, creative mindset and entrepreneurial spirit make Silicon Valley completely capable of transforming and dominating industries like film and publishing, both of which rely heavily on technology. (Consider, too, Seattle-based Amazon's new art gallery, Amazon Art).
The first step, in my opinion, is making the Valley more welcoming to filmmakers, artists and writers. Communities that fail to actively record their own history in a meaningful or interesting way are condemned to have their stories be told and potentially misremembered by outsiders. "Jobs", for example, did not have the cooperation of Woz, and that might be one reason there's so little psychological insight or connective tissue between the events in the movie. Instead, Woz consulted on the biopic penned by Aaron Sorkin, due out next year. I'd wait for Sorkin's version rather than sit through this movie.
What did you think of "Jobs"? And what could Silicon Valley do to better support creativity in fields other than tech?