Unraveling the complex legacy of a callous genius
THE SANTA CLARA
October 22, 2015
I sipped my mint tea and listened to author, journalist and English Professor Michael Malone reflect about his former schoolmate and neighbor, Steve Jobs.
“There was something Napoleonic about Steve Jobs. He was a creature of will,” Malone said. “When you were around him it was exciting and thrilling because he was playing at such a high level, but it was also scary and disturbing because you felt that he just didn’t care.”
“About how people felt about him?” I asked.
“No. Just people.”
Malone grew up with Steve Jobs in Mountain View, California. He watched Jobs and Steve Wozniak build the Apple 1 in their garage. Later, he would write the book “Infinite Loop: How Apple, the World’s Most Insanely Great Computer Company, Went Insane.” Reminiscing, he used words like “imperious,” “smart,” “solipsistic,” “manipulative” and “kind of weird” to describe the young Jobs.
“He felt he was in the wrong place, wrong family, wrong milieu,” Malone said. “He was going to write his own reality.”
Jobs did of course, and during the late 70s and early to mid-80s, Jobs and Apple began to change the world. At the time, Malone covered this meteoric rise for the San Jose Mercury News. A singular and undeniably brilliant businessman, Jobs developed a reputation for being ruthless to his employees.
“I knew guys who worked for him at a senior level, who would dive out of the hallway and into an office when they saw Steve coming,” Malone said.
Jobs’s death over four years ago has vilified him as much as it has glorified him. This duality was apparent in my conversation with Malone, as well as during my viewing of the most recent Steve Jobs biopic, Steve Jobs.
The film takes place backstage over the course of 14 years at three separate product launches (the last of which being the sleek, rounded and colorful iMac). The film’s format is highly dramatized, so those looking for documentary-level realism are better suited watching Alex Gibney’s “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” (worth viewing, regardless).
But despite its inaccuracies, “Steve Jobs” is a stellar film. Aaron Sorkin, writer of the thematically similar “The Social Network” (best screenplay of this decade, adapted or otherwise), fully develops his characters and gives them dialogue that has so much nuance, rhythm and wit that it’s like watching a carefully-choreographed spoken-word musical. Bringing his words to life are a handful of truly gifted actors in supporting roles.
The always delightful Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, Job’s loyal, beleaguered marketer. Seth Rogen delivers a restrained big-boy performance as Steve Wozniak, chafing at being thought of as a Garfunkel. And Jeff Daniels, a man born to read Sorkin’s repartee dialogue, shines as John Sculley, Job’s father figure and boss whose career tanked after earning a false reputation for firing Jobs and overseeing the launch of the massively unsuccessful, stylus-equipped Apple Newton (basically a chunky palm pilot).
But the heart of this film is Michael Fassbender’s immersive and frighteningly believable performance as the title character. He nails the high, grating voice, subtly captures the pre- and post-temper tantrum body language and gives the film a lurking and haunting presence that, based on my conversation with Professor Malone, Steve Jobs undeniably had.
These theatrical elements are brought to life by director Danny Boyle. His work here is solid, particularly the entrancing tracking shots he uses to beautifully capture the Sorkin walk-and-talks.
I could have done without the constant barrage of his trademark canted angles, which came across as superfluous and ultimately self-indulgent, but they didn’t really detract from the action they portrayed.
One particular scene towards the end of the film really emphasized what Professor Malone had told me about Steve Jobs.
An argument ensues between Rogen’s Wozniak and Fassbender’s Jobs. Jobs angrily refuses Woz’s simple request to mention the Apple 2 team at the iMac launch and berates his friend in front of a number of Apple employees and reporters. Devastated and defeated, Woz stomps out of the concert hall, parting with the words, “you can be gifted and decent.”
There lies the problem with Steve Jobs. Yes, he changed the world. He thought different. But he also hurt a lot of people along the way. Did he have to do the awful things he did to get to the great places he wanted to go? Could he have been Steve Jobs without being that Steve Jobs?
“Most people are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not,” Malone said. “I think he could have done the same great things he did without being a (jerk). I don’t forgive him for being a (jerk). But I celebrate his accomplishments.”
Contact Jimmy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.