Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World

BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD                  B-                   
USA  Great Britain  Iceland  (93 mi)  2010  d:  Liz Garbus             Official site
Coming up, the latest news on the Watergate investigation. But first, Bobby Fischer.
 —CBS TV News intro, 1972

The director appears to have been inspired in making the film with the death of Bobby Fischer in 2008, who re-appeared tragically after the events of  9/11 spewing venom against the United States, still smarting from the bitterness against the nation that exiled him only a decade earlier for playing an international chess match in a nation (Yugoslavia) that in 1992 was undergoing a Civil War, violating a United Nations embargo at the time, where the United States Treasury Department under the elder President Bush announced it would arrest him if he returned to America, subject to ten years in prison and a $200,000 fine, making him a fugitive from justice for playing chess.  What’s agonizingly clear is that Bobby Fischer was not a well man near the end of his life, where the obsessive drive that compelled him to become to world’s greatest chess player also caused him to behave erratically afterwards, developing paranoid symptoms about various world conspiracies, including a rabid anti-Semitic steak that was troubling, basically driving away anyone who came near, perceiving himself as a castaway adrift in the universe with no place to call home.  Without chess as the driving force in his life, he became less focused on the real world, allowing himself to become a strict loner and an outcast fading into obscurity.  The film never delves into the acute cause of Fischer’s affliction, with an IQ of 180, most likely symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, not at all uncommon for mathematically minded people and particularly evident with those that suffer from severe emotional neglect early in their lives, where autism, for instance, is six times more likely in children from orphanages.  Many of the earlier segments of his life appear hastily filled in afterwards and left incomplete, but Fischer was left alone a great deal in his youth as his mother was working several jobs. 

Perhaps one stroke of genius in this film is an opening segment that shows Fischer’s rapid rise to prominence in the chess world becoming the youngest American chess champion at the age of 15, scored to the funky electric guitar swagger from SHAFT (1971) that gives this a feeling of a triumphant victory march as Fischer knocks off all the Russian contenders on his way to qualifying for the finals of the World Chess Championship in 1972, a sport dominated by Russians since the end of World War II, who consider this their national sport subsidized by the State, receiving plenty of money and support along the way where the leading chess players are treated to the comforts of the highest standard of living available in the nation, where players have staffs of coaches to assist them in their preparations.  In America, especially for a young Jewish kid raised by a single mom in Brooklyn, he was basically all on his own, largely self-taught, but the picture of cool as he steamrolls his way through all the American competition as well as the best the Russians could throw at him until he reaches the finals with the Russian Champion, Boris Spassky, who he had never played before.  The two nations treated this like an Olympic event, as if it reflects upon their national pride, where the interest raised by the stunning, heretofore unheard of brilliance of the young contender Bobby Fischer was unheard of, as he awakened the world’s interest to a game few actually understood, where the use of military tactics in a board game during the height of the Cold War sparked an immediate nationalistic identification with the outcome, especially where the use of mental alertness to stave off any and all possible strategies is the key to success. 

To this day, Fischer is a legendary figure whose reputation has attained mythical status around the world, much like a living super hero, as he single handedly defied all odds to accomplish what no one else in the world had ever achieved all on their own.  According to Russian champion Garry Kasparov in The Bobby Fischer Defense, "Fischer played every game to the death, as if it were his last.  It was this fighting spirit that his contemporaries recall most about him as a chess player."  Even when rising to the occasion, Fischer was continually fighting his own personal demons as well, where he’d always find little distractions that might cause him to overreact to such an extent that he’d simply leave the match altogether, something he had done plenty of times before, but never at this level.  Yet it was nearly impossible to get these two chess combatants to actually sit down and play, where Fischer actually forfeited the second game by not showing up at all.  This kind of hyper-sensitivity to the smallest distractions of any kind is the sort of thing that kept escalating in his life long after the important matches were over.  This film is reminiscent of the Bobby Fischer of the classical piano, seen in Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer’s GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD (2010), where pianist Gould suffered from many of the same paranoid maladies, becoming overly controlling, retreating from the world and practicing his artistry in complete isolation, but where he similarly took the world by storm in a two week concert tour of Russia in the mid 50’s which was still recovering from the repressive effects of Stalin.  In each instance, they both became beloved figures instantly, largely because they expressed so much passion in the way they played, where their brash individuality and brilliant technique were unparalleled, exactly what led the world to Fischer’s own uncompromising genius in the 1970’s.  The Gould film was actually a more lovingly crafted portrait, as he was a man who found love and joy in his life alongside his art, leading a more balanced life, while Fischer was plagued by inner demons his entire life, who through sheer will power during his twenties overcame their effects with simply astonishing results, but without the game to take his mind off his eccentricities, where paranoia about potential moves on the board is actually an acquired chess skill, the illness simply devoured his rational thought, leaving him beleaguered, continually annoyed with others, unhappy and alone.

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