The Lost Interview: Steve Jobs, Unfiltered

By  |  Monday, November 14, 2011 at 10:05 am

Even an Apple cynic like myself must admit that Steve Jobs drastically changed the world we live in, and mostly for the better. I’m writing this on a Windows computer, I have a Creative Zen music player, and my smartphone is powered by Android. Yet I doubt that any of these would be in existence today without innovations for which Jobs played a significant role.

He was also a charismatic leader and public figure, who held people in thrall with his product announcements and presentations.

But does that mean you would enjoy watching a 16-year-old, 70-minute, videotaped interview, visually consisting of one continuous close-up of his face?

Surprisingly, the answer is Yes. That charisma, combined with the simple fact that Jobs had some interesting things to say back in 1995, make Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview–a film playing in special theatrical engagements around the country this week–a reasonably interesting and informative film. But it could have been much better.

In those long-ago days of the first Clinton administration, technology journalist Robert X. Cringely interviewed Jobs for the PBS series Triumph of the Nerds. Aside from a small portion used in the final cut, the interview was believed lost. Then someone found a VHS copy, and the rest is, if not history, than at least movie distribution.

There’s no filmmaking craftsmanship whatsoever in The Lost Interview. After a brief, new introduction by Cringely, the camera stays on Jobs as he talks. Occasionally an unseen Cringely asks a question. Every so often, the image freezes and Cringely (the 2011 version) provides a little narration to help bring us over to the next part of the interview. Since the image was transferred from VHS, it looks horrible.

But 1995 was a great moment to capture Jobs in amber (or at least videotape). He had been fired from Apple a decade earlier, soon after his triumph with the Mac. Apple was on the skids, and Jobs’ second startup, NeXT, had failed to set the world on fire. The following year, Apple would buy NeXT, and Jobs would triumphantly return to the company he’d co-founded, leading it to greater successes.

Jobs talks about how he first became interested in technology, about the Apple I computers that he and Steve Wozniak built by hand, and the astonishing success that followed the release of the Apple II. He remembers first seeing a graphic user interface at Xerox PARC and realizing that that will be the future of computing. His only complaint about Microsoft (the truly big giant in the industry in 1995) “is that they just have no taste.” He predicts, accurately, that the Web will change everything, but assumes that Apple’s days as an important company are over.

He’s at his best early on, when he describes how he and Wozniak–then teenage buddies–slowly and almost accidentally turned their hobby into one of the most important and successful businesses in history. He also does well when he discusses how companies (including Apple) go wrong. Companies, especially successful ones, become driven by marketing, or by process (which he doesn’t really explain that well). Either way, they forget about improving their content, which is–after all–what it’s all about. Not surprisingly, he has nothing nice to say about John Sculley, the PepsiCo Vice President who became president of Apple and fired Jobs (“I hired the wrong person”).

I’ve never been a Jobs fan–or an Apple fan. I don’t trust charisma (except in performing artists, where you don’t have to trust it). And I don’t like Apple’s “walled garden” approach to technology, where the company that makes the box gets to decide what you can do with it. That’s limiting and it leads to vertical monopolies. Nevertheless, I found the interview interesting and informative, at least most of the time.

But there’s a limit to how much time you can watch a single close-up, and The Lost Interview begins to wear out its welcome well before it’s through. With a little extra work–perhaps inserting illustrative photos over the course of the interview–Cringely and his team could have made an invaluable documentary, capturing an important figure at a career low point that would soon end. Instead, they merely give us a record of in interesting conversation.

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview will play for two days—this coming Wednesday and Thursday—in selected theaters around the country. The Aquarius theater in Palo Alto, California will host the film’s only seven-day run.

[This post republished from]

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. The_Heraclitus Says:

    " I have a Creative Zen music player, and my smartphone is powered by Android. Yet I doubt that any of these would be in existence today without innovations for which Jobs played a significant role."

    Dream on.

  2. Eric Says:

    Do you remember what mp3 players looked like or how many songs they could hold before the iPod? Do you know what smartphones looked like before the first iPhone? Do you remember what consumer computers were like before the first Mac??? Apple wasn't the first in those markets (or with tech like mice, GUI, and USB) but their products revolutionized what was available to consumers. They set the bar and entire industries have copied them to follow suit.

    The author is absolutely right in his assumption.

  3. Addy@Joomla Design Says:

    I agree here…….The author merely wants to focus the fact that one innovation can change things for the whole industry. What Apple or Steve Jobs did was they changed how people think. They streamlined the concept of technology into the right direction or on a more innovative creative path.

  4. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Yes, I do remember. And yes, they would have existed with or without Jobs as he never invented anything. He was a GREAT Product Manager. NOT an inventor. Learn the difference and you MIGHT comprehend…

  5. Eric Says:

    I never stated he was an inventor. He was the instigator, the boss that steered designers toward minimalist look and feel. I totally comprehend. The author listed products that he owned that would either not exist (because there wouldn't be a market for them – example how many companies were making tablets before iPad? 2? 3? Since the success of the iPad how many? 2 or 3 dozen?) or they would be so entirely different in design, function, and scope that they would be unrecognizable as the same products. Cause and effect… Is that something you might be able to comprehend?

  6. The_Heraclitus Says:

    One product. Big deal, not.

  7. Nifty rat Says:

    Bit like your opinion big deal, not.

  8. William Says:

    Having seen the preview too I think you missed the point. The intent was to give the world 100% Steve Jobs from 1995. If it had been supplemented with other content and/or edited it would have been "someone's interpretation of Steve Jobs." The video was pure Steve Jobs. So give Mr. Cringely some credit for not tainting the content. As for the quality of the print, it is after all TV VHS format. It is what it is and was good by 1995 standards.

  9. MJPollard Says:

    And the deification of Steve Jobs continues…

  10. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Only by those who aren't really tech savvy. Just consumer minded.

  11. Ed Ever Says:

    dream on

  12. Christopher Lou Says:

    Jobs will forever live on for as long as Apple and its products exist. He will never be forgotten. This man is a visionary and changed part of our revolution.

  13. Johnny Says:

    Robert Cringely explained exactly why the image quality is bad in a post on his blog:

    The master tapes for "Triumph of the Nerds" were literally lost in the mail. A VHS dub of the full interview was found in a garage only a few weeks ago. They enhanced the resolution as best they could, and the end result is what was shown in theaters.

    Cringely posted a follow-up with technical details of the video restoration:

  14. James h Says:

    The only apple products I have ever owned started with an iPod yes there were others but none that seemed to offer the same capacity and market acceptance at that time. I then progressed to an iPhone (purely too lazy to carry 2 phones and an iPod, preferred two phones) then I found I used my phone to surf the Internet on the way to work and it was too small for videos, so I purchased an ipad 1.

    I would never see me buying an apple mac thoughh as I think they are over priced compared to rival products of a similar usage unlike my phone and tablet

    Did Steve jobs invent these absolutely not, there were whole teams working on them, but then did bill gates invent windows no he was part of the team.

    Are they both leaders of men, yes. I would go as far as to say visionary in there approach to products and markets as well as being accomplished technical people.

    So all this anti jobs sentiment is as stupid as making him out to be some second coming of the lord.

  15. agendasoftware Says:

    i cant beleive this that this is the same Steve jobs who did a lot for Apple 😉