The history of the Mac, told by those who were there

This year’s Macworld Expo is unique in a number of ways—it’s Apple’s last Expo, Steve Jobs didn’t give the keynote, and there are not one but two separate premieres of Macintosh-related feature-length movies. Monday saw the press screening for Rob Baca and Josh Rizzo’s Welcome to Macintosh ($20), which will be followed by a public screening on Thursday night. (The second premiere is MacHEADS the Movie, which will be shown on Wednesday night at Moscone.)

I went to the Welcome to Macintosh screening Monday not knowing what to expect—I intentionally stayed away from the Web site, and hadn’t seen any trailers for the movie. The movie weaves a series of story threads about Apple, its employees and philosophies, and the Mac together by interviewing people who were there for the launch of the Mac—or the launch of Apple itself, in one case.

Through these interviews, you get a sense of what was involved in the making of the Mac, why Apple’s products tend to appeal to their users moreso than do products from other manufacturers, and the personalities of those involved in the products. You’ll also learn some interesting tidbits about the Mac and other Apple products, including quite a bit of detail about the original Apple I.

The film consists entirely of interviews with these individuals, interspersed with some shots of various Mac models (including many in interesting locations) and the occasional visual of a Mac’s screen. But there’s no doubt about the focus of the movie: It’s the people—and if you’re interested in the history of Apple and the Mac, that’s a good thing.

Interviewees include people you’ve probably heard of, including Guy Kawasaki and Andy Herzfeld. Although these people are well known, they had interesting things to say, and much of it was stuff I hadn’t heard before. As an example, here’s a clip of Guy trying to explain how Steve Jobs comes up with his ideas.

While these "known" interviews were informative, I found the interviews with the unknowns to be the real gems of Welcome to Macintosh. From QuickTime engineer Jim Reekes (by far the funniest of the interviews) to Oscar-winning film editor Richard Halsey to Wayne Wenzlaff (the first reseller to sign on to sell the Mac), these people really helped fill out the hidden details behind the early years of the Mac and Apple. Here's a bit of Jim discussing his desire to change the startup sound for the soon-to-be-released Mac Quadra.

The filmmakers did a reasonably good job at combining a series of very disparate interviews into a storyline tracing the evolution of both Apple and the Mac. As an example of the mixing of the interviews, here's a bit showing both Cult of Mac's Leander Kahney and Guy Kawasaki discussing Apple's Jonathan Ive and the design of Apple's products in general.

The movie isn't perfect—I found a couple of segments that dragged on too long, including one about an Apple product collector who has over 6,000 square feet of old Apple equipment. While shots of attic-fulls of Apple IIs are interesting, they didn't really help move the story along all that well. There were also a couple of minor typos on some of the text overlays, but they didn't really detract from the movie in any meaningful way. Some of the language used by the interviewees can be a little bit rough at times, so this may not be a movie you want to screen for a room full of pre-adolescent children.

Because the movie consists essentially entirely of interviews, the filmmakers have taken steps to keep things visually interesting. Within a given interview segment, angles, lighting, and layout will occasionally change, but not so often as to distract from following the interview. This helps break up the longer segments without hurting the watchability of the movie.

The movie itself runs 83 minutes, but the DVD is packed with extras. The Symbiosis section includes all of the shots of Macs in odd locations, Photos and Trailers are what you'd expect them to be, and there's a behind-the-scenes "making of" video. But the real gems of the extras are the extended interviews with nine of the interviewees. An insert in the package provides a brief peek at what you'll get in these extended sessions, and the content is extensive—over three hours of interviews, in fact.

I have a feeling there's some very interesting information in these sessions, given the teaser descriptions on the insert. As an example, Jim Reekes talks about Sosumi and Sound Spotting; Ron Wayne talks about life before Apple (as he knew Jobs before Apple began), Richard Halsey talks about Disney and Pixar, and Andy Hertzfeld discusses the $500 Mac, logos, and Jeff Raskin. I haven't, however, had a chance to explore all of this content, but if it's anything like the interviews in the film, it will be quite entertaining.

If you're interested in the history of the Mac or Apple, Welcome to Macintosh is an excellent way to take a peek back in time and see how the machines we're using today began.

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