SXSW: 5 Revelations From 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine'
Apple employees are rumored to have walked out of the unflattering doc from director Alex Gibney.
Apple lovers beware: Alex Gibney's latest documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, takes a less-than-flattering look at the tech messiah. The film, a CNN Films production, is set to air on CNN sometime next year, though a theatrical release could happen before that should the film find a distributor at South by Southwest, where it debuted on Saturday evening.
Here are five key takeaways from that screening.
Radio Silence From Jobs' Widow, Apple
The film was made without the participation of Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell. After the screening, Gibney said he had approached Powell before anyone else and that she agreed to be interviewed before ultimately pulling out. He also approached Apple, whose board declined participation, saying, "We don't have the resources to help you on this project." The unflinching final product only seems to reaffirm that decision: Rumor has it that several audience members who walked out of the screening early were Apple employees.
Getting Tipsy at Those Apple Events
Describing the moment Jobs introduced the first iteration of the iPhone at a 2007 event, one former Apple employee mentions how each technician took a swig from a flask of whiskey after every feature was successfully introduced. (The film draws laughs when Jobs demonstrated the iPhone screen's now commonplace slide switch, inducing gasps from the 2007 MacWorld audience.) When the presentation was over, that design group went on a celebratory "shit-show" bender through the streets of San Francisco.
The First Apple Computer Was Almost Called "Claire"
Chrisann Brennan — Jobs' former girlfriend and mother of his first child, Lisa — describes the moment in 1977 when Jobs finally accepted that her daughter, the result of an accidental pregnancy, was his. They discussed a name, and Jobs suggested Claire — but Brennan refused because it was too similar to Jobs' mother's name, Clara. The pair then settled on the name Lisa, which, as the lore goes, became the name of his first computer, the Apple Lisa.
But according to the film, that's not quite how it happened: Jobs had wanted to call his first computer "the Apple Claire," and was hoping his daughter could take that name, too. When she ended up with the name Lisa, he changed his computer accordingly.
Jobs' cruelty regarding Chrisann and Lisa is highlighted in the film. You learn that he had lied in a sworn testimony, falsely claiming Brennan had multiple sex partners and that he was sterile and could therefore not be Lisa's father. Only after a paternity test proved that he was did he finally accept responsibility. And though Apple went public in 1980, increasing Jobs' net worth from $20 million to $200 million, he agreed to pay Brennan just $500 per month in child support.
The High Price of Loyalty
The most emotional moment of the film comes when Bob Belleville, the director of engineering on Apple's game-changing Macintosh from 1982 to 1985, breaks down on camera as he reads a note he wrote following Jobs' death. Belleville has a complicated relationship with his former boss — part adulation, part deep-seated resentment — and blames the cutthroat culture at the company for destroying his marriage.
Gizmodo and the iPhone 4
The film spends a significant amount of time revisiting the time when Jobs went to war with Gizmodo, after the tech website had gotten its hands on a prototype of an iPhone 4 that an Apple employee had carelessly left at a bar. All the key figures are interviewed, including editor Jason Chen, whose home was forcibly entered and computers seized by Silicon Valley police, and Nick Denton, who approved a payment of $5,000 for the phone. Jobs, who pledged not to stop until Gizmodo's editors were in jail, died one year later.