Bobby Fischer Against The World, Greenwich Picturehouse 24 July


The structure of this documentary was fine:  fit the backstory of Bobby Fischer (and of chess) into the run-up to the famous 1972 match with Spassky and the match itself,  then cover what became of him afterwards.  I was certainly struck by how good-looking  Fischer was in his prime, and by the way he sounded like an articulate and educated man in interviews (unfortunately all of that was to change quite radically).

But there were lots of things left hanging:  most obviously some interviewees were never identified that I noticed.  There was one guy talking about Fischer coming to dinner and then no longer being welcome because of his loony anti-Semitic views.  Was that the Asa Hoffman we saw earlier? I wondered.  No, he spoke of his wife Joan [Bobby’s sister] dying, so it must have been Russell Targ I suppose.

Then there were the points the film really should have covered and didn’t.  For instance, towards the end we saw the deteriorated wreck of Fischer wandering round Reykjavik and haranguing the Icelandic neurologist whose name I forget.  He was followed around by a Japanese woman, completely unremarked-upon in the film, who must have been Miyoko Watai, Fischer’s suppositious wife.

I’d have liked to have known more about Fischer’s older sister Joan, who suffered the same disturbed upbringing but had the protective effects of being female (and also, according to the film, a different father).  As well as wondering how she turned out, I would have thought that an older sister who must at least have helped bring him up would have been Fischer’s best chance of a normal human relationship.

They should have asked Nikolai Krogius (the psychologist in Spassky’s team) whether Fischer would have been better looked after on the Soviet side, I think the answer is certainly yes.  Why didn’t Spassky claim the match by forfeit?–He had more than one occasion to I think.  He must have been under orders to play and win, poor man.

So who would you look to if you wanted to explain Fischer by comparison?  Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann were men of similar abilities from the same milieu but were spared the disastrous upbringing, which is more reminiscent of Truman Capote or a number of other American writers.  Then there’s Lee Harvey Oswald–turned out better than him, anyway.

but yet the pity of it, Iago!

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