This is the movie where Bobby Fischer has to fight his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes. They’re all chess experts so he works his way from the dude in the park to the final tournament with the timers. Wait, that’s my script for Bobby Fischer VERSUS the World. Nobody take that.
Bobby Fischer AGAINST the World is the documentary about how the famous chess player almost blew his championship to Russian champ Boris Sassky in 1972 by playing neurotic games. Actually, I like mine better. Seriously, don’t take that.
Director Liz Garbus has interviews with chess experts and people close to Fischer, plus names like Henry Kissinger for the political perspective, Malcolm Gladwell to quantify it and Dick Cavett for the entertainment aspect. There are enough clips from Fischer’s limited appearances to balance the perspective, but it’s still all secondhand.
Garbus assumes we know how to play chess so she doesn’t go over the rules. A few times she illustrates a series of moves, with the help of experts explaining. The meat of the story is Fischer’s shenanigans. He holds out for more prize money, he hides out for days if any press or fan tries to talk to him, shows up late and complains about the cameras.
The story of a temperamental genius can be interesting. If Fischer’s not there when the tournament starts, I’d say why bother starting the clock at all? I guess the reason is because he’s probably just psyching out Sassky, which he was. It’s explained that the official rule is to start on time no matter what. Hey, I learned that a chess match can consist of dozens of games, so it’s not just one face off.
I still don’t understand how chess masters see the game, anticipate several moves ahead and execute different strategies. Towards the end, Garbus shows us the math of all the permutations on the board, but not the art of chess. You don’t feel Garbus’s passion for chess or for Fischer. It’s just a document.
Some interview subjects suggest that the chess mind led Fischer to real paranoia, and there’s evidence to support that. I didn’t know about his anti-American comments on 9/11, and then he got conspiratorial and anti-Semitic. So what’s the point of all this, just to prove Bobby Fischer was crazy? He was important during the Cold War but then became a hatemonger?
Some say the tragedy is that Fischer only left a brief sample of his work behind, when he could have had a career full of beautiful chess matches. Text at the end says his bout with Spassky led to a chess boom. SHOW THAT! That’s the social significance. How did this make people care about chess?
I would cast Nicolas Cage in a Hollywood biopic of Bobby Fischer. He could pose like Fischer did in those news reels and then totally freak out. Then get Robert Duvall to play the bearded old Fischer at the end.