Computer Chess (2013, Andrew Bujalski)

“A man on three scotches could program his way out of any problem in the world.”

I was sure I wouldn’t like this b/w 4:3 analogue-video about a 1980’s supernerd computer-chess competition set entirely in a drab hotel, but that’s because I didn’t realize the directions the movie would take. Very glad I gave Bujalski another shot, after disliking his Mutual Appreciation.

P. Coldiron for Cinema Scope:

Bujalski has always shown a tremendous talent for letting big ideas work themselves out in mundane scenarios; this film takes both of those to their furthest limits… Computer Chess’ main force of narrative thrust comes not from any event, but from the its subtly dynamic formal movement from something like mockumentary toward out-and-out abstraction.

There is a camera within the movie, a news documentary being made on the event (whose cameraman gets yelled at for shooting into the sun), but most of the footage isn’t from its perspective. Honestly by now I get the characters and actors all confused, so I can’t recall who participates in which threads, or who Wiley Wiggins played, but I remember Myles Paige as a confident independent with a new approach to programming, who gets trounced in the matches and ends up on the run for stealing drugs from two apocalyptic-minded interlopers. Patrick Riester from the Caltech team goes wandering, gets picked up (and ultimately terrified) by new age swingers at a sad post-hippie conference. One team works for a secretive well-finded organization, and M.I.T. is “the team that’s got a lady on it.”

“I do not think that Tesla is a good role model for your academic career. That is the path to madness.”

The movie becomes very playful, and the outcome of the chess match starts to matter (to us) less and less. It plays with its cameras, and with sound sync and color. Coldiron: “One character, short on cash, returns home in search of money and upon his arrival the film suddenly shifts to colour 16mm, eventually locking into a loop that traps him in a formal purgatory where he remains for the rest of the movie.”

“Everything is not everything.”

Bujalski: “I think it’s odd from the beginning; that oddness just flowers and flourishes more as it goes… I have no doubt that it will frustrate a lot of viewers, but I think it will frustrate them in a new and different way.

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