The world premiere of Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine at South-by-Southwest in Austin was expected to be a celebration of the life and times of the departed founder of Apple Inc. Instead, the movie trashes Jobs and ridicules the global outpouring of emotion that greeted the Apple leader’s 2011 death. Gibney slimes Jobs as less than rock star or a writer of fiction, “but merely a man who sold us things.”
Until Machine director Gibney had been known as an interesting muckraker by delving into Enron, probing sex abuse in the Catholic Church, and investigating Scientology in Going Clear–a documentary that is getting traction in theaters as a peek into the lives of “former church members” that abandoned Scientology. Going Clear is especially hard on the organization’s Hollywood supporters, whom Gibney shames: “You have a responsibility” because “people are joining an organization because of you,” he says.
The Hollywood Reporter describes Machine as a cinematic attempt to correct the “uncritical idolatry of the tech legend.” It is a film that “roots around in [Jobs’s] misdeeds and mean traits, not in search of a complete portrait, but in the spirit of a Judgment Day prosecutor who knows damn well the defendant was not a holy man.”
Because Jobs is held up by Gen-X, Gen-Y and Millennials as an iconic genius who motivated acolytes to put candles outside of Apple stores on his passing, Gibney chronologically trashes Jobs’ life.
We are introduced to Steve Wozniak as the other Apple founding partner. The “Woz” states that Jobs’s original sin was swindling him out of 90% of his share of payment for work they did on Atari’s ‘Breakout’ game.
Gibney dredges up hearsay that Jobs threw a tantrum after his high school girlfriend got pregnant. Supposedly when Apple’s IPO made him worth $200 million, he lied in order to deny his paternity and was angry about paying $500 a month in child support.
When tech reporters were given a misplaced prototype of the iPhone 4, Gibney seems incensed that Jobs “alternately cajoled and bullied” the press, then called out law enforcement, breaking into a reporter’s house and taking crates of possessions in an failed attempt to prevent the catastrophic publishing of iPhone 4 technical pathway. But Gibney never mentions how Samsung’s Galaxy Phone release benefited from the leak.
It was rumored that Apple long-time managemers Jony Ive and Tim Cook refused to cooperate in their mentor’s big-screen lynching, expecting that Gibney would do his usual hatchet job.
Instead, Gibney does “emotional color” by getting friend and early employee Daniel Kottke to speak about spiritual pursuits, and provides engineer Bob Belleville to explain that workplace chaos around Jobs generated creative juices. Gibney also uses iPhone team leader Andy Grignon to recount that Jobs gave him an Apple business card with the title “F–kchop,” and Jobs gave berated him with a “half-hour mindf—” like the Godfather when Grignon announced he was leaving the company.
If Gibney had done his research, he would have learned that Grignon, in a public Facebook post, explained that he designed his own title as “F–kchop” and that the business card was automatically approved after two weeks, since it was not explicitly rejected by a manager. Gibney forgot to mention that Grignon was leaving to start a company called Quake Labs that bragged about poaching Apple employees.
Premiering Machine was meant by Gibney to demean Steve Jobs’s marketing ploy to sell the concept of a “personal computer” as part of our lives, when it is just a tool. Sadly, Gibney fails to understand Jobs went to college as a graphic designer and his brilliance was in encouraging people without a technical background to embrace computers as a way to expand their life.
By that measure, Gibney should have given Steve Jobs credit for expanding lives and shrinking the world.