HBO Documentary Films Summer Series: BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD

Rudie Obias

by: Rudie Obias
June 6th, 2011

Rating: 3/5

Director: Liz Garbus
Studio: HBO Documentary Films

What’s in a name? As much as a film’s title should reflect the content or tone of it, the title of the film, BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD, is fitting and revelatory for what viewers are in for when they watch it. While, of course, an obvious title, it captures Bobby Fischer, one-time Chess World Champion and U.S. chess icon and celebrity, rise and fall in the competitive gaming world, but it also captures his eventual descent into madness and paranoia.

The new documentary by filmmaker Liz Garbus premieres on HBO tonight and kicks off their 12-week summer-long documentary series. BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD is an intriguing documentary to start this event.

The film follows the life of Bobby Fischer, but not in the normal sense of most documentaries, it follows his life with a sense of style. For most, they only know Bobby Fischer as an icon; this documentary effectively shows Bobby Fischer in his own words by using rare and candid interviews while, at the same time, displaying talking head interviews with Fischer’s old colleagues, trainers, and mentors. In this way, it effectively engages an audience to both the man himself and the way people saw him. 

The film also uses Isaac Hayes’ theme from SHAFT to illustrate how good Bobby Fischer actually was in the chess world, but as seen though '70s pop culture. He was a badass! The effect Fischer had on pop culture was staggering to someone who didn’t grow up in the era, comparative to Michael Jordan’s effect on pop culture in the '90s. Bobby Fischer grew the game of chess in the U.S. and all over the world. He had a nation paying attention, which speaks volumes to his personality and skill as a champion. But fame and exposure comes with a price, and ultimately it was his undoing both personally and professionally. Fischer sunk into a deep depression and paranoia after winning the World Championship of chess in 1972. Whether it was the fame or the pressure to retain the championship is a question that will remain unanswered. But what we do know is Fischer developed a deep anti-Semite demeanor, which is in fact odd because Bobby Fischer was Jewish.

Anti-Semitism led to paranoia, paranoia led to hubris, and hubris led to eventual isolation and exile from the U.S., due to Fischer's fear of imprisonment after willfully breaking an U.N. embargo with Yugoslavia to participate in a comeback chess tournament. Seeing the sadness in the eyes of his former colleagues, trainers, and mentors are both heartbreaking and powerful images of a man’s fall from grace.

The film ends with a man’s death, highlighting only what he has done in a five year stretch over the sixty-four years he had lived. A man who had burned every bridge he crossed, a man with no friends or family to stick up for him, and a man almost forgotten until his death. Only questions remained on his whereabouts, both physically and mentally. This is truly a haunting and sobering vision of genius and madness. The only battle Bobby Fischer couldn’t win was with himself, having no strategy to overcome his own demons.

BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD premiers on June 6th at 9PM/8c on HBO.

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