Recovered just after Steve Jobs’ untimely death, the mogul’s longest TV interview appears in unexpurgated form in this 69-minute docu. Appearing relaxed, confident and expansive, Jobs is seen in a single fixed-camera shot in a Redwood City TV studio in 1995, reflecting on his personal interest in the computer, the birth of Apple, his bitter clash with Apple CEO John Sculley, and his then-latest venture, Next. Landmark Theaters’ limited nationwide release is perfectly timed to the global fascination with Jobs, whose fans will hang on every word.
Jobs enlisted as an interview subject for the tube series “Triumph of the Nerds,” hosted by writer-interviewer Robert X. Cringely, who explains the context of the conversation in a brief prelude. Excerpts were included in the aired show, but the complete interview was thought to have been lost in transit in the late ’90s. According to Cringely, the show’s director, Paul Sen, recently found the tape containing the 67-minute interview; for the purposes of narrative flow in this theatrical presentation, the frame often freezes while Cringely’s oddly echo-y voiceover narration sets up the theme of the following segment.
At 40, and with an outlook of observing Apple from afar (he had been booted out of the company by Sculley a decade prior and had subsequently founded Next), Jobs is able to bring a perspective he couldn’t have provided at a younger age. Moreover, this p.o.v. wouldn’t have been possible soon after the interview, since Jobs sold Next to Apple six months later and became Apple CEO a year after that.
Thus, he’s able to say here that “Apple is dying,” and explain why: While the Macintosh computer, which he fundamentally created, had once been 10 years ahead of the PC and other competition, that advantage had dissolved over time because “the understanding of how to create new products evaporated,” and Apple’s wasted R&D money was severely draining corporate coffers.
This observation bears considerable urgency for Apple’s future condition in the here and now. The docu having shown that a Jobs-less Apple could fall behind and lose its creative momentum, an obvious question is certain to linger in viewers’ minds.
With visible excitement and pleased nostalgia, Jobs recalls his sighting of the world’s first personal computer at Hewlett-Packard’s HQ in then-nascent Silicon Valley, and how he and tech buddy Steve Wozniak devised the “Blue Box,” which allowed callers to make long-distance phone calls for free. The pair’s creation of the first Apple computer is a well-known tale, but will prove a thrilling entrepreneurial story for younger viewers.
As anyone who ever heard him speak knows, Jobs was exceptionally articulate and focused in his responses to questions, while generally framing them in a personal context. This is exemplified by his summary of the making of the sublime Apple II computer, the product of Wozniak’s ambition to feature color graphics and Jobs’ desire to produce the first packaged computer with intact hardware. He’s just as direct, and blunter, in his description of how Sculley “systematically destroyed” the values of Apple.
In the interview’s closing section (and echoed by Walter Isaacson’s new Jobs biography), Jobs stresses that Apple was fashioned from a liberal-arts perspective, in which “it all comes down to taste,” something he sees constant rival Microsoft as utterly lacking. Ultimately the docu shows Jobs, as always, ahead of his time: Extremely keen on the Internet, whose social impact in 1995 was then barely being felt, the mogul correctly predicts the Web will be the “defining technology and social element” of the future.