This superb documentary from director Liz Garbus mixes a wealth of impressive archival footage with a number of talking heads, all used to tell the story of Bobby Fischer, an undisputed chess master and arguably the best chess player to ever come out of the United States, for however small a period of shining brilliance.
The focal point is the World Chess Championship of 1972 in which Fischer played against Boris Spassky, the Russian world champion of the time. This game turned people on to chess like nothing before or since. The tactics, both on and off the board, were extraordinary and viewing figures were enormous. It was a prize title fight, the Superbowl, a World Cup final, not JUST a chess game. An entire nation had it’s hopes pinned on Bobby Fischer to end the Soviet dominance of the game. After this dazzling, intense time it may have perhaps been inevitable that Fischer, as awkward and uncomfortable in the spotlight as he was, would then struggle to hold things together. Nobody, however, could have quite predicted just how he would react and how far he would become removed from the man he once was.
I certainly don’t think that many people going in to view this documentary would expect chess to be so exciting but, oh boy, it really is. The run up to that 1972 match and the excerpts from it that are shown are almost as riveting today, knowing the history of the event, as they were back then.
There is no need to surprise people here, many people already know the story of Bobby Fischer’s life, but Garbus still structures everything to ensure that the story is almost linear yet avoids any dull patches throughout.
Fischer is, by turns, endearing and likeable, fascinating, scarily obsessed with chess, fiercely competitive, demanding, paranoid, nervous, stubborn and childish. He’s also a very sad figure who found his one passion in life and then went completely off the rails when that didn’t lead to what he expected. There’s genius there but it’s eclipsed by madness, certainly in the latter portion of his life.
Of historic interest and personal interest, Bobby Fischer Against The World has at least one or two uncomfortable scenes and a wealth of moments so unreal that you wouldn’t buy them in a work of fiction. Yet another great documentary.
DIRECTOR: LIZ GARBUS
STARS: BOBBY FISCHER, BORIS SPASSKY, THE WORLD OF CHESS
RUNTIME: 92 MINS APPROX