Masters Of Cinema #76 - Computer Chess - Blu-ray

'How often do computer geeks get told to get out of their bedrooms and into the real world? Is this the social apocalypse Bujalski thinks would befall them if they did?'

Andrew Bujalski's bizarre serenade to geeks, conferences and an impending digital revolution that seems to have been scaring all of us for many years, is an odd beast of a film; part mockumentary, part mumblecore, part dazed and confused 'Drama' concerned with the social awkwardness of socially awkward people.

If that sounds alienating to you then at times it can be - Ben used the same word when describing his experience with the film during its screening at the Leeds International Film Festival. It's not just the archaic and deliberately amateurish style that works towards keeping you at arm's reach: there's a surrealism here, informed by Lynch but also touching on Kubrick. Is Bujalski nodding to them or parodying them? The film never makes it entirely clear and, as such, the audiences' footing remains unstable.

That though, you feel, is indeed part of Bujalski's aim. Just when you think you have a handle on something - such as a scene where the hilarious Papageorge (Myles Paige) travels to his mother's to get money for a drug debt that could only happen in this sort of situation - the director pulls the rug and Computer Chess becomes a bizarre trip-like experiment of echoing voiceovers and repeated imagery.

Because of those moments where things get very weird indeed (watch out for the cats, the final shot and a breakout into colour) it's not surprising to conclude that Computer Chess could really be 'about' any number of things. There's hints here that Bujalski is at least poking gentle fun at today's group of gaming geeks and awkward youngsters. So much of the conversation here could be applied to them, with constant queries around 'better hardware' and discussions concerning 'stronger gameplay' and 'tactical issues'. The geek culture on show here might be around chess but it could apply to so many things. How often do computer geeks get told to get out of their bedrooms and into the real world? Is this the social apocalypse Bujalski thinks would befall them if they did? As one character says, he can't connect with his fellow drug takers because he's never taken LSD, but he has 'read about it'.

There's also plenty here concerning militarisation, perhaps inevitable, as another character says, when you put together a load of people and ask them to fight black against white. A competitor in the tournament asks another character at one point 'are you trying to recruit me?' and a conversation towards the end of the film seems to suggest some level of intelligence infiltration into what appeared to be a harmless tournament for harmless people. Again, like much of the film, you can't tell if these elements are there to poke fun at people susceptible to conspiracy, or real critique of intelligence influence on otherwise harmless pursuits.

Clarity is an interesting concept in film. It certainly doesn't need to be there, everything spelled out to lead the audience through, but, that said, when your plot is as floaty as this, you do feel as though Bujalski could have afforded to give us a few more pointers. Computer Chess is, as Ben again said in his article, an original, a film which feels like something quite new. It's a shame that the rest of it can hamper your enjoyment as much as it can welcome you in to Bujalski and his film-making.





Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Computer Chess is released in the UK on Monday 20th January 2014


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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