About Movies and Steve Jobs

October 9th, 2015

This coming weekend, yet another movie about Steve Jobs will premiere, bearing his name as the title. Ahead of the release, it has become controversial, but you have to wonder why. It’s based on Walter Isaacson’s best-seller, and thus was officially approved by Jobs before he died. If you’ve read the book, you’d see that there are extensive interviews with him, plus interviews with friends and co-workers.

So where’s the problem?

Well, it appears that Apple some time back reached the corporate decision to disavow the book, in part because Jobs doesn’t come across as a particularly sympathetic character, to put it mildly. In agreeing to the interviews, Jobs allegedly did not work out an arrangement with Isaacson to exert any sort of editorial control, and thus had to accept the results. Or at least that’s the claim. Instead, Apple has given its corporate blessings to yet another biography, “Becoming Steve Jobs,” written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, both of whom supposedly knew jobs over the years. That book reportedly treated him in a more flattering fashion, although Apple would say that it was more balanced.

Before I go on, I do not pretend to have any deep insights into Jobs. I know what most of you know, although I did meet him twice for brief periods over the years. In both cases, I asked some casual questions, and got terse responses. It’s not that Jobs was necessarily rude, but he clearly had other priorities. His approach was to deliver the end of his brief responses as he walked away rapidly, which made it impossible to ask a follow up unless I wanted to follow him around. But he was seldom warm and fuzzy before journalists when questioned, although he could command a room with the best of them when delivering a keynote.

So now we have a movie with a pedigree when it comes to the participants. The script, from Aaron Sorkin, is adapted from the Isaacson book and focuses in several key events in the life of Jobs.

Now Sorkin is a highly-acclaimed screenwriter known for such movies as “A Few Good Men,” “The American President” and “The Social Network.” On TV, he did such programs as “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom.” Yes, he was the one who wrote those famous words, shouted by Jack Nicholson at Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!”

So there’s little doubt that Sorkin can handle the chore. The director, Danny Boyle,” has a number of worthy credits that include “28 Days Later…” and “Slumdog Millionaire.

The cast reveals some curious casting decisions. In the role of Jobs is a German actor, Michael Fassbender, who is well known as the young Magneto in the latest “X-Men” movies, and has a variety of additional credits that include “Inglorious Basterds.”

Seth Rogen, best known as a comic actor and the star and producer of one of the worst super hero films ever, “The Green Hornet,” plays Steve Wozniak. Other players include Jeff Daniels, of “Dumb and Dumber” fame,” as John Sculley. But I would presume that decision wasn’t made to attack the character. Indeed the real Sculley has given his blessings to the film.

Regardless, this is a movie with an A-List team behind it. It may even be Oscar bait.

But Apple clearly doesn’t like it, because the lead character’s personality is adapted from Isaacson’s book. Indeed, there’s a published report that no less than Laureen Powell Jobs, Steve’s widow, went around and tried to persuade such actors as Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio from taking on the role. Certainly the image of the “Dark Knight” portraying Jobs, another dark figure, would have been interesting, and I have little doubt that Bale could pull if off.

And, although he doesn’t in the least resemble Jobs, I have no doubt that Fassbender delivered a credible performance, but I do not plan to see the film. I am more interested in Apple products than the personalities, good or bad, of the people who run the company except in passing. I bought the Isaacson book, read a chapter, and opted not to continue.

Obviously reactions to Jobs, the man, are polarized. So he may have been just a wonderful husband and father, and his family will want him remembered that way. However, Jobs also had his famous nasty side. He was clearly a temperamental character, and thus you can easily believe the nasty stories about him as well.

Apple Inc. is probably considering the perspective of history, and how Jobs will be perceived going forward, particularly as the memories of those who saw him in action fade over time. So if a book or movie emphasizes the good points over the bad, that would also allow Apple to convey the image they wish to convey of the co-founder of the company.

However, knowing that Apple executives and Jobs’ family are not in favor of “Steve Jobs,” the movie, might actually have the perverse effect. People might just want to see it in order to discover for themselves what Tim Cook, Jonathan Ive and Mrs. Jobs do not want you to see. I do not, however, expect this to be a number one blockbuster, although some biographies do well at the box office. “Lincoln,” for example, had a worldwide gross of over $275 million dollars, which meant a healthy profit based on a reported production budget of $65 million. With a budget listed at $30 million, “Steve Jobs” doesn’t have to do near as well to return a decent profit for all those involved.

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4 Responses to “About Movies and Steve Jobs”

  1. dfs says:

    Is anybody seriously surprised that Jobs was less than nature’s nobleman? Many of history’s great artists, visionaries and innovators (think of Richard Wagner or Henry Ford) have been deeply flawed human beings. The interesting question is whether they achieved their greatness despite their personality defects or with the help of them. If the latter, then there is a good reason to explore these in a biography or biopic. If the former, then dwelling on their flaws as these played out in their personal lives is essentially irrelevant and amounts to little more than prurient voyeurism. I plan on seeing the movie, mostly because I admire Sorkin so much when he’s at the top of his game (The West Wing, i. m. h. o., was by far the best dramatic series ever to air on network t. v.). but I doubt very much that I’m going to learn anything about Steve I didn’t already get from The Pirates of Silicon Valley.

  2. Kaleberg says:

    I only met Steve Jobs once, but I did know people who worked with him during Apple’s early days. He was always driven and highly focused. He had climbed the mountain, or rather, visited Xerox PARC, and knew what he wanted to build. Unlike most of us who had climbed that same mountain, he succeeded.

    The problem with the autobiography seems to be that it was written by a journalist or someone with a journalist’s viewpoint. The primary concern of a modern journalist is how much fun they have doing interviews and how much controversy about incredibly minor issues can they stir up. This gets us presidential candidates chosen because they are fun to have a beer with and political scandals about preferring tea to coffee. Meanwhile, the real issues are ignored.

    I’ve met driven people many times, and I’ve also met my share of obnoxious assholes. Given how many CEOs and other business executives are in the latter category and have nothing to show for it but multi-million dollar golden parachutes and bankrupt companies I can’t see why they bothered to do a Steve Jobs movie. Why didn’t they do one about Jack Welch, Carly Fiorina, Mitt Romney or Leona Helmsley. (Please, not Judy Dench!)

  3. John B says:

    I’m assuming you mean “reverse” instead of “perverse.”

  4. TomW says:

    I know some huge jerks (both genders) who have never accomplished anything of distinction. Sorkin could have written his fictionalized screenplay about one of them, but nobody would have attended the movie. He picked Jobs as his subject to sell tickets.

    I’ve noticed that Sorkin’s main characters in his other productions are always “troubled geniuses.” I bet Sorkin’s fictional Steve Jobs shares many of the same character flaws the author knows so much about.

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