Posted on Monday, February 4th, 2013 by Russ Fischer
I saw three films at Sundance this year that I would characterize as incredibly specific, because they dedicate themselves so thoroughly to a premise and aesthetic that they exist as their own one-film subgenres. All three were so distinct that there’s really nothing else like them. One was the “shot in Disneyland” breakdown Escape From Tomorrow (coverage here); another was Charlie Victor Romeo (review), sourced from flight recorder transcripts of cockpit conversations in flights that ended in disaster. And the last was Computer Chess, from writer/director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha and Beeswax)
Shot on Sony AVC-3260 video cameras from 1969, the film is grainy and black and white, and has some strange glitches and artifacts that occasionally seem to have more deliberate life than you’d expect. Ostensibly documenting a small convention of software developers who pit their chess-playing algorithms against one another, the film really looks into a strange crossroads where socially cloistered personalities seek to develop early artificial intelligence. How can people who know so little about life seek to create intelligence from scratch?
I still don’t know if I like Computer Chess, exactly, because I don’t think it fully follows up on some very promising ideas. But I found it to be memorable, and I greatly respect the film. It takes a certain sort of drive and vision to craft a film with a personality as unique as this one. Check out a bit of footage below.