Character Encoding. Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess In Review.


Opening today in UK theatres, Computer Chess is a fantastical product from the mind of Andrew Bujalski, alumni of the US Mumblecore movement.

A rare contemporary acquisition for Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema imprint, Bujalski’s Computer Chess has impressed audiences at film festivals across the world over the course of the past nine months. The film charts events that take place across the course of a weekend in a Texas motel, as computer programmers from across America converge around a contest to create a piece of computer software capable of defeating a human being at chess.

While a compelling enough narrative angle, it’s elsewhere where Computer Chess is at it’s most interesting. Aesthetically the film is very much a product of it’s subject. Shot on contemporarily appropriate video cameras, it recalls the monochromic flicker of an early computer monitor. In an age of 4K and crystal clear IMAX Bujalski’s film makes for a jarring, beguiling image to confront, at least initially. Soon enough though one acclimatises to the very unique visual and rhythmic code employed. It combines to create an eerily authentic piece of work, albeit one which is reminiscent of just what we’re not entirely sure. Such is the idiosyncratic nature of the film that one would quite happily admit to feeling engrossed in a form and space via the manner in which it is being portrayed, with it a testament to Bujalski that is wholly relatable toward.


Performances come courtesy of non-professional actors for the most part. Only that of Wily Wiggins is a familiar name, with the rest of the cast garnered from elsewhere within the cinematic trade and beyond: a number of players come from the other side of the camera, with Patrick Riester having worked as an editor while Jim Lewis is a novelist, and was one of the writers of Larry Clarke’s Kids, while others, such as James Curry and Gordon Kindlmann are real-life figures from the world of computer science. As the film is shot according to the rules of the documentary this further adds to the authenticity of the finished product (although the term “rules” is used there only very loosely).

Our initial tweet reaction sums it up nicely, if not in a manner which hinges a little too much on the hyperbole that comes in tow with that restrictive medium. It’s Grand Hotel meets Eraserhead via This Is Spinal Tap and Toby Radloff, the Genuine Nerd, who rose to fame thanks to the pen of Harvey Pekar. While it would be perhaps noble to declare Bujalski’s film to be a victory for a minority under-represented on-screen, at least legitimately and fairly, one suspects that such bold strokes were not to the intention of those involved. While it most certainly is those things they come but as an accompaniment to a work carved out of something very different. It’s a celebration of these things by proxy, or fluke, with the picture itself a bold, impressive work removed of any such agenda.


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