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Computer Chess by Andrew Bujalski

October 5, 2013


Wolfgang von Kempelen was an 18th century inventor whose fame is due to just one invention, a chess-playing machine named the Turk: the Turk was a hoax – it was no machine at all, the Turkish figure and its huge trunk served to hide a bone & flesh chess player who operated the Turk from its interior – and Computer Chess (which mentions the Turk in the opening scene) is a hoax too because it looks like a documentary about a convention of chess-playing software programmers circa 1980, but Bujalski slowly reveals his game and within fifteen minutes even the sleepy viewer will realize that this is not a documentary but a film and will spend the rest of the projection time trying to decide, decipher and understand the reason and the nature of this cinematic UFO.


Computer Chess has the look and feel of the early 80s even in its (fakely amateurish) cinematic presentation, its tone is that of the mockumentary, but what is it that it is being mocked, exactly? From my point of view this is only another example of the decline of American cinema, an industry shifting from the extremely silly Hollywood films to the extremely abstruse independent works like this one. Von Kempelen´s Turk stirred emotion and controversy for decades, I suspect Computer Chess´s success will be much briefer than that, just wait for the next Unidentified Filming Object to replace it.

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