Talk about typecasting. A growing circle of films about writers — Naked Lunch, Kafka, Barton Fink, Angel at My Table, and Misery — has given new life to a sluggish but photogenic throwback: the manual typewriter. Whether it’s a back-to-basics agenda or simply a case of period-movie dictation, directors are showing more Underwoods than Apples in movies these days.
”Certainly there’s a sense that we’re returning to the ’50s, in a bizarre way,” Lunch director David Cronenberg suggests about all the recent manual labor. Cronenberg’s movie features three most unusual portable typewriters — including an Arabic model that sprouts a phallus — which vie for attention and even turn to murder. Cronenberg invented the featured typewriters, which he keeps at home alongside the grisly gynecological tools designed for 1988’s Dead Ringers.
Other recently filmed makes include the all-business black Remington that Jeremy Irons uses in his insurance office in Kafka against the backdrop of clattering typewriters; the vintage dullard Underwood John Turturro stares at a lot in Barton Fink; and the handicapped, upright, cast-iron Royal in Misery, which is missing its ”n” key.
But as for deep feelings for the old-time manuals, well…there may not be any. Ethan Coen, writer/producer of Barton Fink, says, ”I never really used one. I started with an electric.”