Design / Journal / Media Arts / Typography

What’s in a Line-O-Type? Ask Ottmar Mergenthaler…

Linotype screening poster

Linotype screening poster

Just had a chance to sit down and watch the incredible documentary Linotype: The Film by director/producer Doug Wilson and cinematographer/editor Brandon Goodwin (audio and sound by Jess Heugel).

Filmmakers Wilson and Goodwin deftly capture the spirit of the Linotype, Ottmar Mergenthaler’s 1890 invention that forever changed human communication. They achieve this feat through both the visceral connection and complete devotion the linotype operators and technicians had for their work and the machine they grew to love and respect, almost as if it were a living thing.

From the linotype operators’ detailed aural impressions of the Linotype as it performed the intricate stages of its complex work, to the reminiscence of being kissed on the head by Marliyn Monroe after being shown her name on a lead slug, Linotype: The Film builds a tale of a legendary machine that inspired men and women from disparate parts not just to follow what often became a lifetime calling, but to further embrace the integrity and sincerity of craft in their vocation.

They are described as artists disguised as machinists; the fine screen filters so in tune with their work and the content they composed that they often saved many an upstairs copywriter from story altering errors on the edge of a deadline. All while the machines and presses still rolled on in their unceasing cycle of publication. As one of the lead characters put it:  “It was not easy. But it was fun.”

The film touches on all manner of those involved with the linotype machines, from operators, to collectors, master technicians and machinists, to teachers and students of the craft. As different as their backgrounds may be in other regards, one thing is for sure. All the people in this movie don’t just share a common passion. They are following it.


BONUS TIP:  the passion obviously ingrained in this film even inspired the revival of a once forgotten typeface, Metro, to be reworked as Metro Nova by Monotype U.K.’s Toshi Omagari at the persuasion of the director. It was used for the graphic typeface and titles throughout the documentary. Read more on that story here. Download a thoroughly ruminative type specimen sheet here. Buy the font for yourself here.


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