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What do Computers and Skateboards have in Common?

by Daemon Agent

2001-07-27 00:46:02

They both sprang from the mind of John Mauchly that's what.

A while ago, I received a documentary on inventor John Mauchly. Who is John Mauchly you might ask? Well, according to the documentary MAUCHLY: The Computer and the Skateboard (© 2000 blastoff media), this man is truly one of the fathers of computing.

Co-Directors Paul David and Jim Reed did an admirable job introducing us to John Mauchly and two of his most well known inventions, the ENIAC & UNIVAC computers. The fact that Jim Reed is Mauchly's grandson seemed to give these filmmakers access to people and materials I don't think most others would have. This documentary is told mainly though conversations with those close to the inventor including Mauchly's widow Kay Mauchly (one of the original "women of the ENIAC"), Joe Chapline (friend of Mauchly and writer of the ENIAC/UNIVAC documentation), as well as archive interview footage with John Mauchly himself.

Overall I liked this film and found it quite interesting. There was one editing choice that really nagged me though. The fact that there are a lot of the "audio fade" cuts between different interviewees, where someone voice would be trailing off with an unfinished sentence fading away. I didn't really like that, I found it distracting and thought that "clean audio cuts" would have been better for the film. All the editing was done on a circa 1999 home Macintosh, so I guess I gotta cut editor/director Paul David some slack.

But damn, I really like the subject matter. And for the most part, the filmmakers let the information "sell itself" through the interviewees. They also shied away from other possible distractions like background music or cheesy narration. The somewhat "over the top" WWII era "news reel" near the beginning of the film provides a nice contrast to the rest of the style of the documentary, which is much more subdued and relaxed.

If you get a chance, see this film. With some "cleaning up" and slight re-edits, this would be something you might expect to see on "a good night" of PBS. As it is, you'll have to do a little work to see this film. It's available for rent or purchase via The Cinema Guild and it will also be shown at The Anthology Film Archives in New York City Sept. 29th and 30th. For further information on MAUCHLY: The Computer and the Skateboard, visit the film's website: http://www.blastoffmedia.com/mauchly/

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

nabob@pigdog.org

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