I was briefly in the chess club in high school. Now that that embarrassing revelation is out of the way, let’s talk about someone else who used to play a little.
Not just for chess nuts.
From award-winning documentarian Liz Garbus comes the first film to examine the life of the mercurial chess genius who fought for years to become World Champion, only to disappear into self-imposed exile and deepening mental illness.
Moreso than any other chess player in history, Bobby Fischer has achieved immortality. Hailed by many experts as the greatest player who ever lived, he was a prodigy as famous for his outspoken opinions and erratic behaviour as for his prowess at the board. This film is a gripping look at the man behind the legend, made up from extensive archive footage and fascinating interviews with his fellow players, friends and notable figures from the time.
The crux of the film is of course Fischer’s epic 1972 match in Iceland against reigning World Champion Boris Spassky. As someone who wasn’t there, the closest parallel I can use to describe its depiction here is as a real-life Rocky IV; the precocious American in one-on-one competition against the powerhouse of the Soviet Union. I half expected Hearts On Fire to pop up on the soundtrack. That’s not to say that Garbus isn’t respectful of her subject. Of course she is, but not to the point of lionising him. The film does not shy away from showing the uglier aspects of Fischer’s personality, such as his increasing anti-Semitism and anti-American viewpoints in later life, particularly after his return to the public eye for a controversial rematch with Spassky in 1992.
Liz Garbus has managed to obtain unprecedented access to documents, photographs and film clips concerning Fischer, which she uses to paint an insightful and captivating portrait of one of the last century’s true tortured geniuses; the Mozart of the chess board.