Film #7: Computer Chess

Computer Chess covered a computer chess tournament in 1980. Several teams with their own software programs must first compete against each other, then the winner will play a human chess master.

Overall rating: 3 out of 4

The first thing I loved was the fact that 98% of this film was shot to look like early, black-and-white videotape: jumpy and low-contrast. Although some of the time characters from the film are addressing the camera directly, speaking to the man holding the gigantic, clunky video camera, at other times we see the cameraman in the room, holding the camera itself.

I thought at first this would just be a dry, straight look at the world of nerd culture back when I was a teenager, but that impression was overturned about ten minutes into the film when the camera alights on a man who says that he’s come just to watch because he thinks that “this whole thing” is going to be like World War III. The next man on camera mocks him, but when the chess master, who serves as master of ceremonies for the tournament between the computer programs, also mentions World War III, we see the original commenter light up with recognition.

The film keeps going back and forth between the dry, ultra-nerdiness of the computer chess competition and the wackiness going on elsewhere in the hotel – giant herds of those ugly, squash-faced cats wandering around, one competitor who didn’t get a room and is trying to sleep in the rooms of the competition, a marriage encounter group doing embarrassing 70s encounter group things – so that it’s hard to tell what’s more unlikely: the hermetically sealed, dusty atmosphere of the tournament, or the weird, surreal messiness of the rest of life in the hotel.

I would agree with the program director who introduced the film: this one does have the feeling of a cult classic.

3 responses

  1. This film really felt a lot like “After Hours” to me. I bet that if one liked “After Hours” one would like “Computer Chess” and vice versa.

    • I also think it had a lot of Eraserhead tones to it, but, unlike Eraserhead, this is a movie you could watch by yourself without being high. It didn’t have the zany energy to it that After Hours had, but it did have the jagged, illogical roller-coaster-ride feel to it.

  2. Pingback: Post-Sundance Wrap-Up « What Monkeys Think

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