Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Computer Chess

in any other movie these two would be lucky to get cast as extras but in Computer Chess
they're sort of (spoiler alert) the romantic leads
If, like me, you were a fan of Shane Carruth's low budget utterly brilliant time travel film Primer then Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess will be up your alley. Computer Chess is a wilfully strange, satiric sci-fi film set at a computer chess tournament in 1981-2(?) where coders (mostly from MIT and CalTech) pit their chess software programmes against each other in the hope of winning glory and a cash prize. The computer chess ubergeeks discover to their horror that their conference hotel has been double booked by a very 1970’s-style couples therapy encounter group. When the two worlds collide the fun really begins. The opening ten minutes, is according to Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian “audaciously boring”. I didn’t find it boring at all but I like this “audaciously boring” idea - as if the opening act is part of a clever scheme by Bujalski to get rid of the casual viewer early and keep the film for the true fans. To further winnow the audience, except for one very surreal scene in the middle the movie is shot on authentic 1980's style analogue black and white videotape - which I think works really well. I’m not going to spoil Computer Chess by saying any more about it but if you stay with the film to the very end you’ll understand why I brought up the Primer reference. I loved this crackpot little movie. 2013 was a year of plodding witless big budget sci-fi films such as Elysium, Oblivion and After Earth but a little picture like Computer Chess shows you how to do the job right with a sharp script and a clever idea.  

42 comments:

adrian mckinty said...

Other "audaciously boring" contemporary writers/film makers/comedians?

David Peace

Stewart Lee

Louis CK

Eleanor Catton

Love 'em all...

adrian mckinty said...

The post Thin Red Line Terrence Mallick however might be described as audacious AND boring which isnt quite the same thing.

Sheiler said...

My dad took us kids to his work on occasional saturdays where there was this large ass box called a computer. It was the size of an American refrigerator set on its side. It performed all kinds of functions and printed out on this funny paper with holes on each end. The font looked space-age. And it contained a football game.

This is how we played the game.

Typed any number between 1 and 5, each number indicating a command. 1 was 'punt'. Then the computer would use its algorithms to randomly allocate the outcome each time we typed in a command.

I could have spent days doing nothing but that, and I hated football.

Anne said...

I bet this one could be a close runner-up to your list:-
Living in Oblivion is a 1995 low-budget independent comedy-drama film, depicting the making of a low-budget independent film, written and directed by Tom DiCillo and starring Steve Buscemi.
If you can get past the first excruciatingly tedious 20 minutes it is hilarious. But then, In my opinion, compulsively watchable Steve Buscemi would make anything entertaining.

Alan said...

Adrian,If you wish to see retrospective era films that speak to rather unique audiences do see "Nebraska"and "Still Standing" both of which speak of the effects of Althemers on family members,The Chess film sounds great and perhaps heralds a globalized world with "selfies "and a horrific"Silk Road."Best Alan

seana graham said...

Anne, I remember enjoying Living in Oblivion.

I would add Dead Man and Fast Runner as films in the audaciously boring group.

I remember hearing that Umberto Eco had sort of the same idea of not making the beginning of a novel too accessible in the same kind of weeding out of readers idea. But you'd be hard pressed to find an agent that would give you that advice.

Liam Hassan said...

I have nt even heed of this film - looks good. Audaciously boring could mean atmospheric and scene building, or just very boring .

Another film that could fall into this category that I watched recently is Berberian sound system. Fantastic - creepy and unsettling, turns a bit lynch-like at the end. No actual horror, but like I Sid, unsettling.

Oh and David lynch - can be audaciously boring and utterly pretentious while we re on the subject.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler

And I remember that tennis game from Atari? that was so old we played that on our black and white TV

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

And isnt Peter Dinklage in that too? I havent seen it but I like the sound of it.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

I do mean to try Nebraska. I'm a big Bruce Dern fan. Ever since Silent Running basically.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Dead Man is maybe the last great Johnny Depp movie? The last great Jim Jarmusch movie too? Oh wait not if that came before Ghost Dog...

Yup kind of slow and also kind of great.

adrian mckinty said...

Liam

I've heard a lot of people talk about that Beberian film? Have you see Ben Wheatley's Kill List? It starts off slow and a bit boring and then gets absolutely horrific in the final act.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know what "audaciously boring" is supposed to mean, but I can imagine "boringly audacious."

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

What it means is this: the film-maker deliberately made the first 10 minutes very boring to set the mood. What makes this move audacious is the knowledge that in our culture this is almostly going to piss off anyone everyone under 25. And as we all know the only people that count are under 25.

David Peace kinda does the same move. So does Stewart Lee.

Liam Hassan said...

Yeah - I watched BSS and Kill List in one night over Xmas. I thought it was a great double bill. My wife, less so.

Also - I don t know if I d say David peace is boring. There are lots of criticisms you could make of some of his work, but boring?

Anne said...

I have to agree with Seana here, re. her advice not to make the start of a novel inaccessible. If I'm not grabbed in the first few pages, its lost me. For me, it's not a question of the younger generation's short-attention span, but rather the sense of time being too precious to waste at my age!

adrian mckinty said...

Liam

I've had several nightmares since watching Kill List. It really got to me.

Peace is boring and repetitive but in a good way. A very good way.

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

I'll admit I've been tempted to begin a book like that for exactly that reason as a kind of test. The Sean Duffy chapters that I wrote as a kind of teaser for a possible book 4 began with a page of static...If I ever do write that book I would love to keep that.

Anne said...

I suppose the ultimate teaser of a reader's commitment is (was) David Foster Wallace. And yet he managed to make The Pale King, which is literally an exploration of boredom and alienation, into a spellbinding critique of de-humanising, soulless bureaucracies. (You may gather I am a big fan!)

Peter Rozovsky said...

" What makes this move audacious is the knowledge that in our culture this is almostly going to piss off anyone everyone under 25."

I have never read a more enticing endorsement. I must see this.

In re David Foster Wallace, a critic remarked that Infinite Jest was unreadable, which was its whole point. What that critic meant, I don't remember, except maybe that Wallace did it to show he could do it.

seana graham said...

Anne, I wasn't really endorsing accessibility though, I was really meaning that if someone is trying to get a book published today it is all about "grabbing" the reader in the first ten pages. I am not saying this is a good thing for the world of literature.

I thought of another director I've been working my way through slowly for the last few years who would fit in what I think of as the audaciously boring category. Yasajiro Ozu, who gets a bit overlooked in the cult for Kurosawa. (Who I also like.)

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

Yup I read The Pale King and I liked it. But he leavened the boredom with jokes and beautiful sentences.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I do think you will like Computer Chess, probably not Infinite Jest, but if you dont like his essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (particularly the title essay) I'll eat my hat.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Yes Ozu is boring. Tokyo Story definitely taxed my patience. And Scorsese and many others love him so maybe I'm missing something.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I've read and liked a few of Wallace's essays in my time.

If David Peace is boring, he's boring in the same way that meditation and Zen practice is supposed to be. If anything, you may have underrated Red or Dead.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Indeed. I picked Red or Dead as my favourite novel of 2013 and Morrissey's Autobiography as my favourite non fiction and they're both books that some people will adore and others will hate and I can understand both points of view completely.

I did wonder if I was a little biased in Red or Dead's favour because I'm a Liverpool fan and because I - briefly - met Bill Shankly.

seana graham said...

You have to be in the right mood for Ozu, which is why it usually takes me a long time to get around to him. Or maybe you're just not old enough yet.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Then let me be the judge. I never met Bill Shankly, I'm no big soccer fan, and I have no sentimental attachment to Liverpool, the Beatles, or Gerry and the Pacemakers. So you can trust me on Red or Dead.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

And those films have not generally been well preserved so when you rent one its very grainy and difficult to watch.

Mark Cousins the N Irish film critic loves Ozu.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Speaking of which: I noticed no royalty information for Rodgers and Hammerstein in the book. I had to remove all the Tom Waits lyrics from my books in the US because my licence only covered the UK, Ireland and the Commonwealth. Peace seems to have solved that problem by rather craftily not licencing You'll Never Walk Alone in the first place.

Peter Rozovsky said...

And I thought he was being clever and allusive. Sounds like fodder for one of my how does the author meet a challenge? posts.

seana graham said...

The discs I get from Netflix have been very good except for one that skipped.

I don't remember how I got on to Ozu, but more recently I came across a book by the director Paul Schrader called transcendental style in film which talks of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer together. I was a little surprised that Schrader was the author.

Anonymous said...

Netflix has Computer Chess available on streaming. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Adrian, you have not steered me wrong on a movie yet.

I'm getting sent to Melbourne for a week on business. Is there a good book shop to pick up your latest? I can't buy it where I live yet.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think Faber's lawyers never made it through the book and Peace kept his mouth shut about it.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Here's Cousins on Ozu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx3HAEq0gJs

BTW I can do a perfect Cousins impersonation.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Its a fun film isn't it? Good ending.

Oh Duffy 3 should hopefully be easy to find in Melbourne. Readings should have it. I hope. I havent actually checked.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, whatever the reason, I think you'll agree Peace made good use of the constraint under which he had to operate. I'll say no more, lest I spoil the fun for those who have not read the book.

seana graham said...

Good to know Computer Chess is on Netflix anonymous. Unfortunately, I haven't even gotten to Primer yet. Maybe I'll do them in reverse.

Thanks for the Cousins video, Adrian. I'll check it out and see if I can even tell your accents apart in the first place.

I see that there is a Wim Wenders YouTube on Ozu as well.

Anne said...

@ Seana
I don't think that "grabbing" the reader in the first ten pages" is necessarily a bad thing for the world of literature - in fact many great novelists have done this in the very first line. Think of Lolita, The Go-Between, 1984, A Tale of Two Cities, Catcher in the Rye, Anna Karenina, to name only a few.

seana graham said...

It isn't a bad thing, Anne, but it isn't the only way to go either. And that is not what you'll hear from anyone who might publish or represent your book today, at least in the American publishing market. I really think it has to do with the fact that there are so many entertainment options besides reading these days that they no one can risk a novel being a bit obscure to start with any more. It's not that everything should start out being challenging to enter into, but there should be room for some to be.

Anne said...

Sorry, Seana, I don't think you can blame the modern reading public or the publishing market for this. There's no point in writing something that nobody wants to read.
A challenging read is one thing (and devoutly to be wished for) but for an author be deliberately obscure or boring is self-indulgent and an insult to the reader - i.e. he who pays the piper!

{With apologies to Adrian for hi-jacking your blog}

seana graham said...

Yes, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one, I think. Although I'm not talking about books that no one wants to read, I'm talking about books that expect readers to exert themselves a bit, like say, Ulysses, rather than make it easy for people to gain entrance.