Apple founder Steve Jobs had a way of convincing people that they need the latest technology and that they couldn't live without it. In press conferences announcing new products, he could barely control his enthusiasm. A ruthless businessman, he turned Apple into one of the most successful corporations in the world.
With Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a new documentary about Jobs and Apple that opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, director Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) takes a hard look at the man's legacy. Gibney, who also narrates the movies, can't help but editorialize as he exposes the ways in which Jobs & Co. often circumvented laws and morals to maximize profits.
The film opens with Jobs' death. We see news reports about how people responded to his passing, and we see respected figures such as Al Gore talk about Jobs as "the one and only person in the world who could create technology products that people love." Gibney, however, interrupts the eulogy to tell us that he could be "ruthless and cruel" behind the scenes.
Gibney traces how Jobs and friend Steve Wozniak started working with blue boxes, a way to fool the phone system so you could call anywhere in the world for free. Then, in the early '70s, Jobs worked for Atari where he enlisted Wozniak to help him build the game Breakout. With Apple, which he founded with Wozniak, he started to take on the giants, specifically IBM. We see the Superbowl ad from 1984 for the MacIntosh, which launched the concept of the personal computer as a form of empowerment.
And yet, as Apple ascended, Jobs' personal life was in turmoil. Michael Moritz, the former Time reporter who broke the story about Jobs' daughter Lisa, talks about Chrisann Brennan, and we hear from her how the two first met. "He had a lot going on inside him," she says as she recalls telling him that she was pregnant and seeing him simply run out the door. Gibney tells us that after a paternity lawsuit, Jobs agreed to give her $500 a month at a time when he was making millions.
The greed didn't stop there, either. Gibney goes to China where we see crappy working conditions. The suicide rate is so high at the factory that Apple installs nets to prevent workers from jumping out of windows to their deaths. And we learn about various investigations into backdating stocks and tax evasion. It's not a pretty picture.
In the end, Gibney presents a damning portrait of the man who's often portrayed as a hero. The evidence is convincing, though we could have done without Gibney's voiceover. The testimonials from friends and ex-coworkers provide sufficient proof that Jobs' public persona clashed with his private one. Having Gibney tell us so isn't necessary.
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