Review: ‘Pressing On: The Letterpress Film’

Embrace the old

3 mins read

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film
(USA, 99 min.)
Dir. Erin Beckloff and Andrew P. Quinn

One of the heartening trends in the past decade has been the revival of appreciation for the products and producers of the analogue age. Whether it’s the return of vinyl discs as commercial properties or the increased interest in local beers and wines, it’s clear that a stunning number of younger people are embracing older technologies. Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a doc that will appeal to those who understand the artistry of making books or prints or single-sheet manifestos.

Erin Beckloff and Andrew P. Quinn’s engaging doc introduces us to a disparate group of letter press operators: some old, some new. The older ones such as Dave Churchman and Jim Daggs are charming presences, stunned that their work as letterpress operators is being appreciated again. After all, their expertise, which is grounded in how to make and manipulate type to create printed pages, had supposedly been rendered useless in the digital age.

And they’re assuredly proud of their heritage. Johannes Gutenberg changed the Western World, effectively ending the Dark Ages, through his introduction of the moveable type press in the mid 15th century. His Bible became the first best seller and likely led to the rise of Protestantism after people read “the good book” instead of just listening to it at Church. From those roots, the letterpress brought about a technology that created centuries of books, newspapers, sermons and manifestos.

Pressing On shows that an increasing number of people are embracing the old, wonderful way of creating texts on paper. As one of the films’ experts remarks, it’s romantic to create your own fonts, choose your own paper and make something beautiful, not practical. It’s inspiring and funny to see Tammy and Adam Winn spar and flirt with each other as they acquire yet another letterpress machine for their garage office. You know they’ll be making work until they’re old, like their mentor Jim Daggs.

Beckloff and Quinn quietly introduce two new places where letterpress advocates can go, either to museums like Hamilton Wood Type, where the articulate Stephanie Carpenter works or the artistic route espoused by Jim Sherraden and Cecile Aubry at the busy Nashville-base Hatch Show prints.

For people like me, introduced to the letterpress process of making books and papers by my dad, Pressing On is wonderful film. But even for those who aren’t part of the cognoscenti, this is still a lovely film that is well worth seeing.

Pressing On is now available on home video.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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