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8/26/2013 4:35:00 PM
Priest-calligrapher portrayed in film about Steve Jobs
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Robert Palladino works on calligraphy at his home in the foothills of Oregon's Cascade Mountains.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Robert Palladino works on calligraphy at his home in the foothills of Oregon's Cascade Mountains.
William Mapother
William Mapother
'Jobs' an iffy piece of work
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — "Jobs" (Open Road) may not be the worst biographical film ever made. But it certainly earns an unenviable place in the pantheon of lame screen profiles.

Ashton Kutcher, directed by Joshua Michael Stern from a script by Matt Whiteley, portrays Steve Jobs (1955-2011), the founder of the Apple computer empire, as an amoral, monomaniacal tyrant who cheats all who come into contact with him. When he's not abusing co-workers, he's being roundly applauded, in the manner of a Broadway star, on his way to becoming a self-proclaimed technology guru.

The ugly truths about Jobs' self-centered personality have been widely documented. So too has the boardroom battle that briefly ousted him from Apple, only to have him noisily return a few years later, evicting his opponents along the way. That's all here, right down to his annoying habit of always parking in a handicapped spot at corporate headquarters.

No one should expect biographies of highly driven people to show them without flaws or moral compromises. "Jobs," however, fails abysmally at fundamental storytelling.

How did this man get the way he was? It's not here. There's only the outward behavior, which veers wildly between narcissism and schizophrenia.

Especially troubling is the sequence in which Jobs kicks live-in girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennan (Ahna O'Reilly) out of his house simply because she's pregnant and he doesn't want to take any responsibility for the baby.

Some years later, we see the child in question, Lisa (Annika Bertea), sleeping on the couch at Jobs' palatial home. How did she get there? We're left to guess.

When not hectoring colleagues, like the strangely faithful Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), or cheating his co-founders out of stock options as Apple is about to become a publicly traded corporation, Jobs speaks in aphorisms as inspirational music swells. "How does anybody know what they want if they've never even seen it?" he asks.

By the time he's introducing the iPod, his cult of personality is in full force, and he's emitting platitudes such as "When you can touch somebody's heart, that's limitless."

Rival corporations such as IBM and Microsoft appear only in discussions. At one point, Jobs calls up Bill Gates at Microsoft and curses him for allegedly stealing software ideas.

Whatever these two men's respective places in history may turn out to be, the stultifying "Jobs" sadly gives us no more insight into its chosen subject than it does into his unseen rival.

The film contains cohabitation, two scenes of drug use, a couple of instances of profanity and frequent crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Father Robert Palladino feels gratified that producers of the film "Jobs" chose a handsome, athletic, 6-foot-1 actor to portray him. Of course, Hollywood does have a way of getting unhinged from reality, quips the 80-year-old priest.

In 1972, Father Palladino was an urbane former Trappist monk teaching calligraphy at Reed College in Portland. Steve Jobs, who would later found Apple Computers and become an entrepreneur icon, was a disgruntled freshman who had dropped out of Reed but decided to audit calligraphy. Jobs, who later became one of the world's richest men, at that point slept on couches and collected cans and bottles to survive.

Jobs, who died in 2011, would later credit his calligraphy studies for inspiring the fonts Apple used to help convert the computing world from mere scientific expedience to digital elegance.

Portraying Father Palladino in the film is 48-year-old actor and screenwriter William Mapother, best known for playing Ethan Rom on the TV series “Lost.” A native of Louisville, Ky. Mapother attended St. Xavier High School there and then the University of Notre Dame.

In a blog, Mapother discusses his short classroom scene with Ashton Kutcher, who plays Jobs.  

"Given the quality of my own handwriting, it’s a darn good thing I wasn’t expected to do any of my own writing in the scene," Mapother writes. "I worked with a calligraphy expert and learned enough to feel awed, humbled . . . and certain that it’s not in my future. Not in this lifetime, anyway."

Mapother said he intended to portray Father Palladino as "someone deeply committed to calligraphy, and by extension, to life. Someone who cared about beauty, expression, and communication. Someone serious."

He received some background about the priest before the scene was shot, and would like to have met him. But time did not make that possible.  

Mapother did not consciously call on his long Catholic background to play the role, but had several similar teachers in his 16 years of Catholic education.

"I'm sure they crept in there somewhere," he says.

About 10 minutes into the film, Jobs is wandering what is supposed to be the Reed campus (it's really UCLA). He sees a girl under a tree sketching and peers at her work. She mentions that she is in a calligraphy class taught by a monk named Robert Palladino. We next see Jobs in the classroom, working on calligraphy with Mapother up front teaching.

In a later scene, Jobs explodes at an engineer who did not include a button for multiple fonts on a computer toolbar. He fires the man, complaining that obviously he lacked passion for the project.  

During a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Jobs said that Reed College in the 1970s offered what he thought was the best calligraphy instruction in the country. "Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed," Jobs said.  

Father Palladino taught Jobs about serif and sans serif type faces and about varying spaces between combinations of letters, and everything that makes typography excellent.

"It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture," Jobs explained in 2005.

A decade later, when Jobs was designing the first Macintosh computer, his calligraphy lessons came in handy. He even called his old teacher for advice. Jobs and his partners took the counsel to heart as they designed their machine, which became the first computer with artful typography instead of dotted, mechanical characters.

“If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts,” Jobs said later, adding that since PCs copied Macs on that score, maybe no personal computers would have such good type.  

Father Palladino now lives in the foothills of the Cascade Range, where he served as a parish priest for more than a decade. He returned to the priesthood in 1995 after his wife died, becoming a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland. He still does many small calligraphy jobs, though his hands have stiffened up, and he presides at St. John Mission in Welches and on occasion celebrates Mass in Latin at St. Stephen Church in Portland.  

He taught about 80 students per year for 15 years at Reed, and bristles if too much is made of his famous charge, lest the dignity and achievements of the others be degraded. But he does recall Jobs fondly, saying that he saw nothing of the volatile temper the film puts so far forward.

"He was most pleasant," Father Palladino says. "When he came back to consult, all the students were glad to see him. He must have been very popular."

The priest does not plan to rush out to see the new film that includes a brief glimpse of him, which came as a surprise. He was not consulted. He is just now getting around to reading the 2011 book on which the movie is based.

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