Computer Chess

5 Aug

I’m glad that movies like Computer Chess exist. I like them. The director is Andrew Bujalski. According to Wikipedia, he is the “Godfather of mumblecore”. That’s one genre I’m not very familiar with. A lot of those movies are tough to find. That baffles me. It’s 2013. Come on. Computer Chess definitely has a mumblecorey feel at times, but the setting is so different that I don’t know if you could fit this into that category even if you really wanted to. Or maybe you can. I can see some scenes fitting into that kind of movie if you changed the setting. I don’t know. This whole mumblecore section is me talking out of my ass.

The setting is a computer chess tournament in 1980ish. There are a bunch of teams with chess programs: MIT, Caltech, some shadowy defense contractor, a lone-wolf eccentric, etc. There were only a couple really well-developed characters, but the atmosphere of the whole thing was very absorbing. Almost the whole movie is set in the hotel where the tournament is taking place. That could have been a really claustrophobic setting, but that’s not how it played out.

The big hook of Computer Chess is that is was filmed on period video equipment. Read some technical stuff about that from the cinematographer here. I loved this idea. It was perfect. In Fruitvale Station, a lot of critics talked about how the director “made Oakland a character” in the movie or whatever. You could say something similar here. The video equipment was definitely a character. All the little imperfections and distortions–I would not like to watch movies filmed this way regularly, but as a one-time experience it really added to the experience. Plus on a superficial level, it gave everything a very authentic feel. Like, even more than the costumes and moustaches and giant CPUs, the visual signature just made this movie feel like an early-80s computer chess tournament in a way that I don’t think anything else could have.

I’ve been trying to write a thousand-plus words on movie reviews. That isn’t going to happen here. I don’t have anything urgent or unique to say about this one. I’m not going to insult both of us by doing a lot of movie-review summary bullshit or that kind of thing. This was a cool movie and I’d recommend it. If you have an open mind it’ll be interesting even if you don’t like it.

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