Bobby Fischer Against the World is a documentary that explores the life of chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer. You might be thinking “urrrgghhh a chess documentary” but this is not a documentary about chess, it’s a documentary about one man’s journey to becoming the best chess player in the world but at the same time becoming so obsessed by the thing he loved most that he loses his grip on reality.
The film covers Fischer’s rise to chess fame and other aspects of his life, but the core of the film focuses on the 1972 match between USSR World Champion Boris Spassky which was hyped and broadcast as a Cold War battle. Bobby wasn’t just winning a chess title, he was out to give the Ruskie the finger and prove America’s greatness… kinda like the plot of Rocky IV. It really is a piece of theater to watch as Bobby turns up late, gets in a huff about noise and makes a huge rookie mistake, but Spassky also starts in with the drama as he thinks that there are devices in the room causing him to lose focus. In 1975 Fischer lost the title by default and faded into obscurity but it doesn’t end there! 17 years later Fischer became a fugitive and was exiled by the US government because he broke UN regulations and had a rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia (there was an embargo on sporting/economic activities in Yugoslavia at that time).
If you thought the media was at their worst with Britney Spears, well they were fiends for Bobby Fischer. I was born in 1986, Chinese checkers was the chess of my youth, so it was unreal for me to see the media and the general public go completely ape over chess and a goofy looking guy who made it “sexy”. I mean the reaction and the attention that match generated was something more suited to a world title boxing match. Obviously this had a lot to do with the political climate but man I don’t think a chess game between Obama and Gordon Brown could create that much excitement and interest today. And to think all this attention was before Fischer started looking like Grizzly Adams and became more vocal about his antisemitism (despite the fact that he was Jewish!).
A well made documentary that tells an exceptionally bizarre and fascinating story. Regardless of whether you are a chess fan or not it’s really worth checking out as it deals with obsession, genius, human tragedy and captures an intriguing cultural/political climate. If you’re not into eccentric characters then the documentary might not hold your attention but it’s worth checking out to see how much of a cultural impact chess had at the time.
There’s also a whole heap of extras (25 minutes worth) to round out an already awesome release. The two most noteworthy being The Fight for Fischer’s Estate (7.04) which tells of the efforts of those who tried to claim his two-million dollar estate and Chess History (5.04) which explains the origins of chess and has some interviews with some pretty big names from the chess world. Taking on the Grand Master (1.39) sees Sunday Times Online Culture Editor takes on a Grand Master, basically a filler and there’s also an 8 minute documentary by some London Film School students called Kings in the Ring about chess boxers.
Bobby Fischer Against the World is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.