Computer Chess

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 with 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.


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  • ★★★★ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd


    Deeply, deeply, deeply weird. Trust me, you are not prepared for this. It begins as a pitch-perfect evocation of an era, both formally (Larraín's NO looks like 48fps by comparison) and in terms of performance style (everyone from Wiley Wiggins to Gerald Peary (!) seems to have channeled long-forgotten mannerisms from the days when nobody informed geeks of their place on the spectrum). Just as you're settling in for affectionate portraiture, however, Bujalski suddenly goes Cubist. Not only does Computer Chess not resemble any of his previous films, it defies comparison altogether; there's a free-floating, found-object dynamic at work here that feels less "original" or "singular" (words that convey a strong sense of craft) than somehow "isolated," as in a mutant strain of a virus. Actually, here's a comparison: Despite set-ups that are clearly omniscient rather than first-person, this feels more like something compiled from tapes found moldering in a drawer somewhere than did Trash Humpers. As a result, a few scenes that feel more carefully scripted (most notably the swinger couple's ambush), though they work perfectly fine on their own, break the spell just a little bit. And even that spell arguably just amounts to sustained riffing, a masterful goof. But hats off to Bujalski—he's detonated a neutron bomb underneath the mumblecore label. I now have zero clue what to expect from him next, which is damn exciting.

  • ★★★★ review by Vadim Rizov on Letterboxd

    When you point a Portapak directly at the sun, it could destroy the camera — this is Weak Technology, but it's strongly responsive, making its own decisions about what to record and what to spit out — which is the perfect starting point for a movie that's about Technology's shift from passive tool to active agent. "That’s my Terminator fear of where we’re at," Bujalski said in this excellent interview with Phil Coldiron, "not that the robots have become self-sufficient and are set up to destroy us, but that the robots have made capitalism so efficient that it’s become sentient and is going to destroy us." What appears to be a shot in which a person is making an active decision about what to record and is defeated by his apparatus is the first choice made by emerging, possibly sentient technology, devices that set their own limits concerning the kind of creative choices they're going to enable and what's firmly off-limits (which is how both the free market and Internet 3.0 work — it initially looks like you're presented with a landscape limited only by the sum of your choices, but in fact your choices are circumscribed by a limited toolbox of options that have to be actively articulated in order to even be aware of their presence, at which point everyone decides that the most sophisticated technology the world's ever seen can be best used to help corporations increase their profits by hiring 20somethings to make comical .gifs). At one point, the camera takes the fisheye POV of a computer monitor staring out at its subject, and the movie acts as a series of visual demonstrations on the basic idea of technology as decision-maker rather than medium. (As the sole celluloid-color interval demonstrates, it's easy to get lost in a loop lost in a loop lost in a loop.)

    Watching this for a second time in a room full of novices is fun, both because it's much more orderly than it appears on first pass and because you get to watch someone yell out "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?"

  • ★★★★½ review by Joe on Letterboxd

    Might be tempting for The Moviegoing Public to overrate this thing just because of the exhilarating gearshift it represents, from hilarious, mumbly, and awkward period piece into weird science-fiction mind-bending that makes Beyond the Black Rainbow look like Halfway to the Partly Cloudy Sky.

    The inarguable fact remains, though, that this is beautiful piece of cinematic texture, the kind that is pretty much unexplored territory in movies - I love how exactly the socially awkward cadences and diction are captured perfectly by the actors to hysterical effect. But the real beauty of it is that it stretches into much stranger areas than just laughs and I'm guessing it will be gestating in my brain for quite a while. Not bad for a movie about a bunch of computer people talking to each other.

  • ★★★★ review by sydney on Letterboxd



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  • ★★★★ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd

    Every color of the autism spectrum in muddy black in white.

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