Bobby Fischer Against The World (R13)

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Review byMatthew Turner18/06/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 92 mins

Hugely entertaining and superbly made, this is a fascinating documentary that's by turns suspenseful, emotionally engaging and ultimately heart-breaking.

What's it all about?
Directed by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World charts the turbulent life of troubled chess genius Bobby Fischer, who was a gifted child prodigy and went on to become World Champion in 1972, after a nail-biting match against reigning Russian champion Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War. After subsequently losing the title by default in 1975 (because he refused to defend his title), Fischer more or less disappeared from the public eye, only to become a fugitive 17 years later, when he broke U.N. sanctions by playing a rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia and was exiled by the U.S. government.

The Good
Garbus eschews voiceover narration in favour of telling the story through an impressive array of talking heads that includes many former chess champions (such as Gary Kasparov), friends (in particular, former champion Larry Evans and Doctor Anthony Saidy, whose house Fischer holed up in when he famously disappeared before the 1972 championship), stills photographer Harry Benson and even Henry Kissinger. She's also assembled a wealth of terrific archive material that includes home movies, some astonishing stills (many taken by Benson), news footage (“Tonight: the Watergate scandal. But first, Bobby Fischer ...”), and jaw-dropping audio clips, most notably a disturbing anti-American rant to a radio station in the Philippines right after 9/11.

Fischer himself is an intriguing character, with a distinctive walk and strong Brooklyn accent (he also bears a striking resemblance to Nicolas Cage – surely there's a Cage-starring biopic in the works?) and his story is endlessly fascinating, whether it's his troubled childhood, his rise to unwilling media superstar (the 1972 match took on political significance and was watched around the world) or his heart-breaking descent into madness and paranoia (characterised by anti-Semitism) in his later years.

The Great
Garbus maintains an exciting pace throughout, aided by some skilful editing and some inspired soundtrack choices (The Theme from Shaft, T-Rex's Get It On, etc). The film also delivers a blow-by-blow account of the 1972 World Championship (including all the behind-the-scenes wrangling) that is utterly riveting and genuinely suspenseful.

Worth seeing?
This is a superbly made documentary that tells a genuinely fascinating story and has some thought-provoking observations on both the dangers of fame and the nature of genius and obsession. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/02/2020 10:02

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