Jobs: Fiction Masquerading as Biography

The moved Jobs is opening today.  I had the great opportunity to follow the career of Steve Jobs over the course of my own career in Silicon Valley and I have read a great many books and articles about Mr. Jobs.  He was incredibly complex: cameleon-like is his ability to change is personality and approach to fit situations.

And now, we have a movie starring Ashton Kutcher opening today and another one currently being written by Aaron Sorkin that attempt to condense decades of a very public life into two hours.  Doing so is simply an impossible task.  There is nowhere near enough time to show the many facets of who a person was, much less how that person evolved over time.  The best that can be hoped for is for the writers to capture the essence of the central character and present that essence in the film – a “meta-truth” about the person.  Or, if the project is more commercial than documentary, the goal is to tell an interesting story against the backdrop of a person’s life and sell tickets to a movie.

Slashdot published a great interview today [Link] with two early Apple employees – people who lived the reality that Jobs attempts to portray.  Dan Kottke consulted on early version of the script and enjoyed the pre-screening that he attended, even while noting that many, many things shown in the movie simply never happened and other things that were very important to those early days were inexplicably left out of the film.  Bill Fernandez has not seen the movie nor does he have plans to see it:  “I don’t want to see it. I think it’ll just be too weird. I also don’t want to see someone else playing Jobs.”

Fernandez summed up his feelings about Jobs this way:

It seems to me that there’s a lot of fan fiction about Apple Computer and about Steve Jobs, and I think that this is the biggest, flashiest piece of fan fiction that there’s been to date. . . . That’s part of why I don’t want to see it, because the whole thing is a work of fiction, and I don’t want to be upset by all the things that the screenwriter has invented and don’t represent the truth.

Kottke compared Kutcher’s Jobs with Noah Wyle’s portrayal of Steve Jobs in The Pirates of Silicon Valley:

That was a great movie. Noah Wyle was just uncannily close to Jobs. Just unbelievable. I found myself thinking it was actually Steve on the screen.

Pirates is a terrific movie; it is very entertaining and I do recommend it.  But it, like Jobs, was  intended to be entertainment rather than a documentary.  I had a conversation about that movie with one of the very early employees of Microsoft – a guy who went to the meeting with IBM portrayed in the movie.  He described the scene in the movie as only getting one thing right – that the meeting actually did happen.

I don’t know about Jobs yet.  I do worry about people forming opinions about Steve, or Woz, or the many, many other real people portrayed with less than accuracy in the movie.  These people are all giants of the technology industry.  They deserve to be remembered as who they actually were and are, not as some writer chose to portray to make a point in a short movie.


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