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Fischer (with Boris Spassky in photo, left) during his ascent to the World Championship.


of other contemporary television spots and newspaper headlines, are only a fraction of the extensive archival footage unearthed by director Liz Garbus for her new HBO documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World, a bio of the chess great and human not-so-great. The film vividly reminds us of just how com- pletely a single chess match, and a singular 29-year-old Brooklyn boy, seized the world’s attention. Yet director Liz Garbus’ work is the first feature documentary


film on the best-known chess player of all time—a fact that seems as improbable as some of Fischer’s famous feats, like his 20 straight wins against the best players, or his infamously hate- ful harangues, like his gloating enthusiasm over the national heartbreak of 9/11. “I read the New York Times obit of Fischer and wanted to


know more,” Garbus said. “I became obsessed,” a word that is certainly the mot just on the topic of Fischer. Garbus began a year-and-a-half of archival research. “Sometimes things that should be easy to find, aren’t. You become a sort of detec- tive-sleuth. You find out that something promising exists. You call Iceland, they don’t have it. You call someone’s friend of a friend …” Garbus then spent another two years shooting and supervising the film. Her film goes something beyond (and in one “TMI” (Too Much


Information) moment, behind), the warts-and-all approach, including even a photo of a rear-naked Fischer in the shower dur- ing training for the big match (gratefully, the 1972, not 1992, contest). “I don’t think anyone has seen Bobby’s tuckus before,” Garbus said. The shot does prove the surprisingly unfettered access granted to Harry Benson by the normally photographer- fleeing Fischer. Interestingly, Benson initially gained Bobby’s trust by explaining that he had just completed a shoot with Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Knowledgeable players can look forward to viewing the bio


without the gaffes we’ve squirmed through in other movies about chess. To say that Garbus, who has won an Emmy and been nominated for two Oscars, has done her homework is a bit like saying Bobby Fischer studied openings. She was bril- liant to sign on as advisors two of Fischer’s closest and most credible confidants from the glory days, IM Dr. Anthony Saidy and the recently deceased GM Larry Evans. Along with them, a who’s who of chess figures, as well as a wide range of rele- vant authors and experts, and, notably, Fischer’s brother-in-law,


uschess.org


Russell Targ, are interviewed for the film. The documentary allows those over 50 to relive and those


younger to experience the fervor surrounding Fischer’s spec- tacular rise to demolish the old Soviet Union’s decades-long grip on the chess throne—all before the days of blitz playoffs and Armageddon bidding, when it was simply the opponents, the board, and no excuses. And all in the context of missile-point- ing USSR-USA tensions, inter-continental bombers aloft and circling every hour of every day. The work roughly divides itself into three half-hour seg-


ments: pre-Reykjavik Bobby, the 1972 match, and the rest of Fischer’s life. A life, of course, contains infinitely more compli- cations than a 93-minute documentary can include. At best a bio can capture some central truths of that life. Events and peo- ple must always be left out. All that noted, there is an unfortunate series of omissions in Garbus’ film. Alarmingly, there is no mention whatsoever of Fischer’s key benefactors who donated years of their lives to Bobby: his first teacher, Carmine Nigro and his famous coach, John Collins, both of whom also served to some degree as surrogate fathers. It’s extremely unlikely that Fischer would have been world chess champion without these men. There’s also little mention of the mentoring given Bobby by


GM William Lombardy, five years Fischer’s senior, who won the World Junior Championship 11-0 in 1957. Lombardy was an important member of the “Hawthorne Chess Club,” the group of future champions—including Fischer and the Byrne broth- ers—who met several times a week at John Collins’ Flatbush apartment. And there’s no credit given to the Ed Edmondson- led U.S. Chess Federation that quite literally dedicated all of its resources and pawned its future in 1970-72 for a Fischer who then dropped out, leaving USCF broke. Leaving out these supporters reinforces the theme predicted


by the title—Fischer as a self-taught, self-maintained, lone gunman. The idea was great media hype at the time, but over- worked as “history” today. Garbus disagreed with me that the film focused on Bobby as an unaided loner: “The film is about the 1972 match, looking at it as a phenomenal piece of enter- tainment, and all the shenanigans that almost prevented it from going down. That’s the spine of the film: bringing it back to an audience. Remember, there are people today who do not know who won! So, to them, it’s a nail-biter.”


Chess Life — August 2011 9


FILM REVIEW PHOTOS BY HARRY BENSON


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