Documentaries: Pressing On: The Letterpress Film (2018) - Reviewed

It can be a good thing for a film to be reverent about its subject matter. Especially when it is a subject very few people are familiar with. However, it is possible for a film to be too fascinated with its topic. Such is the case with Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, a documentary so in love with its subject that it spends far too much time letting its interviewees wax poetic on how incredible it is and not enough time making itself accessible to non-devotees. The final product has some interesting information to impart, mixed with a large amount of repetitive praising.

​The letterpress and the world of letterpress enthusiasts was something I had literally no knowledge of coming in to this movie. There is some talk of its history and clips from a couple of pretty cool old educational videos, but Pressing On mostly focuses on the people keeping the nearly obsolete art form alive today. That description is a little misleading because it is not really about the people themselves. It is only about their love of the letterpress. All we learn about them is their experience with the press, how much they enjoy it and how concerned they are that it will be destroyed. They each discuss these same things, repeatedly, for the entire length of the movie.

​However, Pressing On does contain moments of inspiration. One is a sequence early in the film showing someone setting up type for a letterpress as though they were using a computer. It is a clever visual that allows those of us who are not fully aware of what a letterpress does to see it set up in a style that looks recognizable. There are also several scenes where experts reveal how they were brought into this profession that gives them an opportunity to share their enthusiasm in a way I could connect with. The filmmakers otherwise assume a fluency most of us do not possess, but this approach at least attempted to let me understand the passion these people have for their work. A lot of the time it was almost like they were speaking a foreign language.

​Pressing On is so focused on its world that it neglects to make it comprehensible to newcomers. I struggled to find an entry point into this movie, which made it very difficult for me to get into it. The main purpose of Pressing On seems to be to convince viewers how valuable this form is and how great these men and women are for keeping it going. If you already feel this way, there may be much for you to appreciate here. If not, you will probably not be persuaded. 

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-Ben Pivoz