USA – 2012 – 92 MIN – BLACK & WHITE - FEATURE - IN ENGLISH
A FILM BY ANDREW BUJALSKI
Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, COMPUTER CHESS transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. We get to know the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future.
Andrew Bujalski has written and directed the films FUNNY HA HA, MUTUAL APPRECIATION and BEESWAX, all of which have appeared on The New York Times critics’ “Top Ten of the Year” lists. FUNNY HA HA was also identified by A.O. Scott as one of the “Ten Most Influential Films of the ’00s.” Between duties to his own projects, Andrew has also worked as a screenwriter-for-hire and a teacher of film production at Boston University and the University of Texas. The Boston Globe describes him as “unerringly polite and somewhat disheveled.”
“What on Earth made me think that it was a good idea to make an existential comedy about the oddball geniuses who thought it important that a machine learn to defeat its masters at, of all things, chess? Perhaps it was already an existential comedy before I got there?
For a decade now I've been making features on beautiful, outdated 16mm film, and people have asked constantly, ‘Why don't you just shoot on video?' Right, I wondered, why don’t I? Why don't I dig up a beautiful, really outdated old video camera and start dreaming in a language of images that time has passed by entirely? COMPUTER CHESS was a long, fondly held fantasy project for me and certainly the most purely intuitive thing I’ve ever undertaken. From time to time over the years, when I would sometimes despair of trying to come up with a ‘mass appeal’ project to pay my bills, I would escape off to a fantasy vision of this weird-looking, weird-feeling, weird- topic project and a smile would cross my face. In retrospect it feels like my subconscious was putting the whole thing together, very slowly and in complete seclusion (as if fearing terrible reprisal should the conscious mind ever find out about it).
The mysteries of the mind of course also form the backbone of our story. As a species we’re learning more and more about how our brains work, but it’s difficult to imagine that we’ll ever feel fully enlightened about our own processes—as you may know from your own adolescent and/or pot-smoking experiences, when the mind starts to examine itself too intently, things get really...confusing. How bold it seems of us to try to build an ‘artificial intelligence’ without anyone quite able to satisfactorily explain what ‘natural’ intelligence is!
It’s easy (and, I'll admit, fun) to laugh at the big, igloo-sized computers of 30+ years ago. Of course today’s iPhone has plenty more processing power than the mighty PDP-11 our characters are seen struggling to push across a room. And in the 21st century, plenty of computer programmers have nice haircuts and go to the gym and drive cool cars. But the ‘nerds’ of yesteryear, certainly those at the vanguard of AI were, I believe, a different breed. I think of these early programmers almost as a sect of monks, absorbed and dedicated utterly to their mission, to a degree that the rest of the world must have seemed like so much noise and distraction to them. In our current Oprah-fied culture where we so value ‘well-roundedness,’ something seems almost frightening about that kind of antisocial focus. I, of course, can’t help but admire it. I have no idea if building artificial intelligence is a noble goal or not, but after spending this much time trying to push my imagination into these programmers’ world, I’ve come to love the guys (and the very rare, in those days, women) who saw this mountain and insisted on climbing it. It’s at least as noble as moviemaking, anyhow...”
- THE GLOBE AND MAIL
"All the right moves"
- THE TORONTO STAR
"Sometimes the only way to tell how far you’ve come is to take a good look back."
- THE NATIONAL POST
NNNN! "Shot on repellent black-and-white video to better replicate its early-80s setting, COMPUTER CHESS is strangely of a piece with writer/director Andrew Bujalski’s previous thorny romantic dramedies. This one just happens to play out between men and their machines."
- NOW MAGAZINE
(Interview with Andrew Bujalski)
- NOW MAGAZINE
"...a titillating melding of our relationship with spirituality and tenuous hold over technological advancement."
An interview with Andrew Bujalski
"...a bold, visionary, vertical black slab that will have to be reckoned with for a long time by any creative spirit who dares strive for any sort of originality or DIY bravura"
"COMPUTER CHESS marks a giant evolution in Bujalski’s work. He’s at top form in this film."
- TORONTO FILM SCENE
"It takes a tremendous amount of skill to create something so low key yet ripe with meaning and subtext. Andrew Bujalski probably won’t be nominated for an Oscar for COMPUTER CHESS, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve one."
"’...it's great to see that a film based around the early 80s race to build chess playing computers isn’t afraid to be nerdy, obtuse, and at some moments deliberately embarrassing."
- DORK SHELF
4 out of 4! "thoughtful, engaging, funny--a genuine surprise."
- FILM FREAK CENTRAL
"Laughs move COMPUTER CHESS forward into the delightfully bizarre"
- QUIP MAG
"Decidedly Smart and Strange, ‘CHESS’ is One of the Year’s Best "
- CHELSEA NOW
"Andrew Bujalski Film COMPUTER CHESS Unearths Collie Ryan's '70s Folk Gem 'It's Gonna Rain'"
"Andrew Bujalski on COMPUTER CHESS, Idiosyncrasies, and Filmmaking to Pay the Bills"
"Pick of the week: Man vs. machine, circa 1980" (Pick of the week!)
"Bujalski is now a great filmmaker"
- INDIEWIRE (The Playlist)
"Andrew Bujalski on Sylvester Stallone, Public Access TV, and His Great New Movie"
"Bujalski presents a consistently compelling time capsule that captures the innocent fascination and single-minded commitment to innovation that drove the digital revolution."
- EPOCH TIMES
"Indie filmmaker Andrew Bujalski on his first period piece, the improvised comedy COMPUTER CHESS"
- AV CLUB
"COMPUTER CHESS, a long-gestating project he turned to while he was working on something Hollywood, he's gone smaller and quirkier than ever. It's an unscheduled left turn that's borne sweet fruit."
"COMPUTER CHESS takes Bujalski’s style into a more conceptual realm. It’s like a time capsule that never was or science film in reverse — a comedy of human frailty and technological glitches, simultaneously celebrating and satirizing an obsolete future and its forgotten avant-garde."
- ART INFO
A- "Bujalski has detonated a neutron bomb underneath the expectations it engendered. It’s impossible to guess what he might do next, and that’s damn exciting."
- AV CLUB
- THE L MAGAZINE
"A comic gambit pays off"
Andrew Bujalski Talks COMPUTER CHESS (Interview)
- THE VILLAGE VOICE
"COMPUTER CHESS Is the Funniest and Headiest American Indie of the Year"
- THE VILLAGE VOICE
"Much of the pleasure of COMPUTER CHESS comes from watching Bujalski go so far out on a limb — with the primitive black-and-white video, the odd hiccups of experimentation, the willingness to break off into unexpected tangents."
- THE DISSOLVE
"To tell the story of COMPUTER CHESS, director Andrew Bujalski decided to get primitive" (Interview with Director)
- THE DISSOLVE
COMPUTER CHESS is wildly original — and luckily much more"
Director Andrew Bujalski Explains His Cultural Influences (Interview)
“…close to perfect.”
- FILM COMMENT
“An extraordinarily inventive and richly textured period piece.”
- THE NEW YORKER
“… a funny, low-key look at nerd culture…”
"COMPUTER CHESS could be a new Doctor Strangelove. Hilarious and brilliant."
★★★★“(A) rather brilliantly conceived study. …About as perfect a rendering of the era as you could ask for…the acting is uniformlysuperb: every twitch, every stumble, every stutter is deployed with absolutely plausibility. Bujalski really has pulled off something extraordinary here… As an act of cultural archeology I can think of few better.”
- THE GUARDIAN
“An endearingly nutty, proudly analog tribute to the ultra-nerdy innovators of yesteryear.”
“Funny and poignant, it’s also a witty satire on technology and how today’s cutting-edge will be tomorrow’s quaint kitsch.”
- LOS ANGELES TIMES