By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco and the California Theatre in Berkeley.
There are many alleyways in the life of Apple CEO Steve Jobs that prolific documentarian Alex Gibney could have centered an entire film around.
He could have concentrated on the pre-PC world of Blue Box “phone phreaks,” the wild west of 1980s computer culture, the increasingly seductive relationship between humans and their personal technology, the messiah complex of corporate bigwigs, the trickle-down moral relativism of the rich and famous or the environmental/human rights atrocity of Apple’s overseas factories. Instead, he delivers this high-level, Wikipedia page overview of Jobs, the flawed man.
The Man in the Machine opens with the weird global outpouring of grief over Jobs’ 2011 death, but Gibney is eager to inform us that it’s possible for the CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation to be an IRL ruthless, manipulative, egomaniacal, credit-hoarding monster who only cares about money and image. Take that, the little boy who made a factually dubious YouTube video!
From there, the film is a pretty watchable and informative entertainment, never boring at over two hours. It probably saves me from ever reading a Steve Jobs biography (or looking up his Wikipedia page, at least), and forms a damning indictment of Jobs’ “core values” of cheating friends and family, stealing from his own company, defrauding investors, bullying reporters and despising poor people.
However, this is still some decidedly unmemorable filmmaking, with all the usual Gibney tricks coming into play: media montages set to cheeky pop songs, Gibney’s own hushed and indignant narration, the obligatory Jon Stewart clip, and a penchant for dopey rhetorical questions of the freshman philosophy variety. “He loved the idea of Be Here Now, but where was “here”? Yo, Teach…!
It’s all so obvious and straightforward. The onscreen titles are typed out by a blinking cursor because that’s what computers do.