One of the most enjoyable events this year at the Telluride Film Festival was a conversation with director Danny Boyle as part of his Tribute. Afterwards his latest film “Steve Jobs” was shown. Boyle’s Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” had a great word of mouth at a sneak preview premiere at Telluride in 2008.
His work, including his notable opening ceremony for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, has a trademark rapidly-moving camerawork. Boyle said that fast cutting makes for “a very difficult place for actors.”
Boyle described “Apocalypse Now”, which preceded him for a Tribute at last year’s Festival as “one of the greats…to me a constant inspiration.” He added that “great films are built in the editing room” as film is an “editor’s medium.”
His directorial career began in theater and television where he gained a respect for new plays. His advice for those starting out: “Don’t get despondent if nobody writes back.”
Boyle said the script for his dark comedy “Shallow Grave” (1994) was “stolen from Coens.” His 1996 “Trainspotting”, about Scottish drug addicts, had a memorable scene where Ewan McGregor “dives” into a toilet. Boyle said he did not use CGI for the scene, but “old stagecraft.” The toilet was cut in half. From behind the half facing the camera, a “prop guy throws up water.”
For “Steve Jobs”, Boyle was told that shooting the film in Hungary would save millions in the budget. But he wanted to film in the actual location of San Francisco to access something “difficult to quantify” that would be picked up from the place. The filmmakers also got to meet people present at incidents depicted in “Steve Jobs.”
Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) has the title role of the visionary inventor. Boyle says he never once saw Fassbender look at the dialog-heavy script by Aaron Sorkin. He added that the actor “absorbed the script almost if he had written it” and “through that found his character.”
Fassbender, portrays Jobs as a charismatic egomaniac. He is backed by a strong cast including Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffmann, Jobs’ marketing executive, Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak who co-founded Apple computer with Jobs, and Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley.
As a big admirer of Aaron Sorkin’s writing for “The West Wing” and “Newsroom”, I was very surprised to find Sorkin’s screenplay the weakest link of “Steve Jobs.” The film is structured around events leading up to three product launches – the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Aaron Sorkin’s clever dialog doesn’t get beneath the surface. “Steve Jobs” seemed like the same scene repeated three times without significant insight. Jobs is in continual verbal conflict with the people who continue to work with him. The film felt like what “The West Wing” would have been if the series had consisted only of scenes of characters quickly walking and talking through hallways.
While Jobs was celebrated In TIME magazine, Chrisann (Katherine Waterson) the woman with whom he had been involved and mother of Lisa, the daughter Jobs won’t acknowledge, has filed for welfare. It seemed contrived that minutes before each product launch Jobs would have an emotional confrontation with Chrisann and/or Lisa. Joanna in particular tries to build up Jobs’ relationship with his daughter.
At the beginning of the film, Jobs is already famous. The film would be improved if there were scenes showing how Jobs developed his world-changing products and became such a combination of intelligence and indifference. There are too short flashback scenes of Jobs and Wozniak working in a garage.
As director Danny Boyle has a keen visual eye. Even stacked up chairs provided a striking backdrop. Boyle described himself as remaining “in awe of the power of cinema.”