A flurry of biographical films were announce shortly after Steve Jobs’ death in 2011, with the first to reach theaters starring Ashton Kutcher as the Apple visionary. Alex Gibney, creator of the upcoming Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, told Variety that he thought Kutcher looked good in the part, but his movie was “silly,” and its flattering take on Jobs “wasn’t interesting to me.”
Gibney’s entry in the Jobs genre is evidently much more critical of its subject than previous films. Its debut at the South by Southwest film festival over the weekend surprised critics, with Variety itself describing it as a “coolly absorbing, deeply unflattering portrait,” and generated considerable pushback from Apple insiders, many of whom declined to participate in the making of the documentary.
According to Business Insider, “several Apple employees in the audience reportedly walked out of the screening early,” while Apple software and services chief Eddy Cue declared it was “an inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend” and “not a reflection of the Steve I knew.”
In his Variety interview, Gibney described himself going into the project with a positive impression of Jobs and Apple, but coming away with a considerably more jaundiced view – to the point that he says he actually likes his beloved iPhone less after looking inside the company that made it. He notes that Apple refused to cooperate with his film, describing the company as “somewhat hostile.” No one currently employed by Apple filmed a scene for the movie.
Gibney seems very disappointed in some of Apple’s corporate practices, although he didn’t elaborate beyond describing them as a “ruthless” company. He has a provocative take on Steve Jobs: “When I went into it, I thought that Jobs was an inventor. And I don’t really think he was an inventor now. I think he knew how to push people and he was a storyteller, and he became a storyteller for the computer age. But not all the stories that he told were true.”
Interestingly, he also says documentary filmmakers “have become such great storytellers” over the past fifteen years, as theatrical and cable-TV documentaries have grown in popularity.
A review of Gibney’s film at International Business Times offers some hints of the dichotomy between Jobs’ philosophy and business practices: “He wanted people to love his products, but was a ruthless boss to work under, and he played the justice system to benefit his and Apple’s interests. Gibney also touched upon Apple’s troubling relationship with the Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, and the number of suicides, work-related incidents and air pollution that plague the overseas supplier of iPhone components.”