Pressing On and pressing forward

At the start of the documentary, the audience meets a black screen but is greeted with the audio of an old Chandler & Price letterpress machine which is working at a fast pace. The funny thing is, that was one of the only things I knew about letterpress before the film: was how loud and clangy the machines are. Funnily enough, I learned about the sound the machine makes via another style of video, television. It may sound old fashioned, but I think it’s okay to be old fashioned at times, but I know the sound of a letterpress thanks to the tv show The Waltons. Johnboy Walton buys a letterpress, but it was very much used, whether it was second hand or more so than that.

The thing is, the Walton family doesn’t have a lot of money, and I forget the exact premise of how he acquires the machine, but he only acquires the machine. No fonts, no chases, as far as I can remember, he then has to look within his community to find additional materials to use. Johnboy had wanted to be a writer ever since he was a kid, but unlike today, unlike right now, if you write something, you have no way to distribute it. He would write with pencil on yellow legal pad paper, but then what? He had to then make better hand written copies in ink on better paper, but that’s still only one copy. Seeing the power the letterpress had for him really opened my eyes as a young kid, because that was my introduction to understanding how computers work! I saw him putting the letters together, grabbing each one individually from the tray, and making words out of thin air. That makes me better understand how each letter on this keyboard has been chosen with care and is the equivalency of a stamp on a page.

This movie really showed us what the world of letterpress is like within this modern world. It might not have the same level of practicality as it did when they were more common, but I truly loved the part of the documentary where the married couple who own a print shop were contacted by someone who had a press….but it was in a basement. A very important part of the film was to make it known that everyone knows someone who has a press. After talking about this film with my grandparents, their old neighbor used to have a press! A medium sized one, not full sized, and I never got to see it myself, but it just goes to prove the point that everyone know someone who has one. These machines are such permanent objects, they are made to be invincible. They are meant to last for incredibly long periods of time, and the proof is in this letterpress sitting in this person’s basement which needed removed by a tow truck.

Everything about this documentary is focused on merging the past and the present together, and cinematically speaking, its done perfectly. From start to finish, the movie is a compilation of letterpress from past, present, and future. If we didn’t know where it all started, how would we know what we are protecting? How would we appreciate the significance of it? That’s exactly what this documentary aimed to do-educate with the hopes of preservation.

1 thought on “Pressing On and pressing forward”

  1. I need to look up that episode of The Waltons! I’m in a similar situation with my press—I’ve had to gather supplies, type, just about everything on my own. I like how questions of the modern letterpress supply chain were addressed in the film: who is making new type, who is repairing machines/building parts, etc.


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