"Computer Chess" is a film about a 1980s computer gaming tournament that pits computers against their programmers. "Chess" celebrates vintage computer engineering culture. It is shot in a documentary-style similar to the works of David Guest, but without the irreverent whimsey. It is decidedly not for fans of the 1984 cult-classic "Revenge of the Nerds." Rather, this film is shot from the sincere perspective of the engineers that live outside the "norm," but within the construct of their own society. Moreover, these gentle-nerds are serious about their chess.
The attention paid to visual detail is outstanding. The props, costumes, decor, makeup, and facial hair are well researched. Adding the visual allure is Bujalski’s decision to shoot the film in black and white. Without the modern crediting and cinematic clarity, the viewer might believe that this was documentation taken from the 1980s. It’s a movie/computer nerd’s wet dream.
The actors have a divine understanding of computer engineering culture. This is the first on-screen role for most of the cast; they adapt to their parts like consummate professionals. They pay homage to the quirks and habits attributed to engineers without falling into a hole of cliched stereotypes.
Although the central actions of the film occur at a computer chess tournament, the movie is not only about programmers and their creations. It is also about the human experience as facilitated by technology. The men and solitary lady who participate in the tournament have adventures that may appear small to the viewer, but are largely life changing for the character. For example, the tournament shares space with an experimental couple’s workshop (i.e., sex therapy). While a person acquainted with the mainstream might react and move on, the chess programmers have their worlds rocked.
"Computer Chess" gives breath to the nascent society of 80s game programmers. Viewed anthropologically, this film is a brief look into the lives and culture of the men and women who developed the computer and internet games we now take for granted. It is an introvert’s delight that might not suit everyone but will charm technology enthusiasts, historians and intellectual devotees.
A movie by Andrew Bujalski
A Kino Lorber Release