15 June 2011

Documentary: Bobby Fischer Against the World

Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1777551/

Billed as the first documentary feature of Bobby Fischer's life.  I think the key word is feature. There's been other documentary-style productions, not none near as lengthy.  I've not seen those, so I can't contrast the amount of information this documentary has in comparison with those.

This film is an amazing look into Bobby Fischer's life, from his childhood, his meteoric rise through the American chess world, his famous match against Boris Spassky and the crazy antics leading up to and surrounding the match, his disappearance, his reappearance and eventual death.

The documentary tried to place the Fischer vs. Spassky match in the context of the Cold War.  I know it has to be tough for the younguns that didn't grow up during that era to be able to understand how much weight the Cold War had on anything that happened to involve anything USSR and USA. As much as the documentary tried to stress the context of the times it just didn't feel near as heavy as actually living through the era felt.  But that's probably not the film's fault, some things just can't be easily conveyed.

The film has plenty of interviews with a few people that did get close to him, which makes the film much better than one that only interviews folks who are experts from the outside.  When it came to Fischer's behavior it didn't seem like anyone held any punches, they called it as they saw it. As a kid Fischer seemed a little off.  They discuss his relationship with his mother. She's no paragon of parental behavior and seemingly a little wacko in her own way, but I doubt that Fischer's madness is a case for "nurture vs. nature". I think there's a little bit of both at work here.
Fischer seemed to have been able to function in public to some degree, but as he got older it certainly seemed he had some serious sanity issues.  The documentary also compared his behaviors with some previous chess grand masters.  Not exactly decreeing that "stellar at chess batshiatcrazy" but there seems to be some common issues.

Now I have to admit that yes I knew about Bobby Fischer before I ever watched the documentary because I used to be part of my high school's chess club. Knowledge of his existence is rather tough to avoid in those circles. But I'd never really studied the depths of his life, not the way this documentary lays it out.  I remember seeing in the news his problems in '92 after his unofficial rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia, his expatriation, his post 9/11 comments, his later arrest in Japan, and finally his death in 2008.  The world had changed so much since the Cold War world of  the 1972 match against Spassky, as had Fischer. He mattered so much back then, had such an influence, and it all withered away after '75 and pretty much became a footnote with Fischer by '92 and later, except for the few who remembered the Fischer that was.

Great in-depth documentary for history buffs and chess lovers.  But I would think even if you've never heard of Bobby Fischer and have no interest in the game of chess, the documentary is still a compelling film to watch about an amazing and tragic life.

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