Review: Bobby Fischer Against The World

Bobby Fischer was a poor, self taught kid from Brooklyn who, through ferocious will and total commitment, became the planet's best chess player. He took on and defeated the great Soviet Chess machine single-handedly and became one of America's most potent Cold Warriors.

And then, once he had become world champion he used that will and commitment to become one of the planet's most unrelenting anti-Semitic, anti-American bores, publicly rejoicing hours after 9/11.

As such his story is an early example of how American foreign policy continually cultivates its future enemies: less catastrophic than Bin Laden and Saddam, but just as embarrassing.

It's hard to imagine in this era of cosseted corporate sporting spectacle but this documentary takes us back to a time when sporting events were regularly politicised .

'Should sport be kept separate from politics,' was a recurrent talking point.

In 1973 America was transfixed by chess and Fischer's world championship clash with Russian Boris Spassky in Reykjavik regularly knocked Watergate and Vietnam off the headlines.

The film merges a portrait of a flawed tragic genius with the story of a historic sporting global summit meeting: it's part

Most Read

Genius Within: Inner Life of Glenn Gould, part When We Were Kings, the film of Ali and Foreman's 1974 Rumble in the Jungle.

Sadly chess doesn't lend itself to the cinema like boxing does. Director Garbus can't show us how good Fischer was because at this level of chess you almost need to be a grand master to properly appreciate it. All she can do is wheel out the talking heads to tell us.

Game 6 is eulogised as the Game of Placid Beauty, but once they have said how great it is the film has to move on because there's no way to share it with the audience.

Also it doesn't help that thanks to one of Fischer's strops complaining about the noise of the cameras that had been placed in the auditorium, there is very little footage of the match.

But as a straightforward rise and fall tale the film is both effective and affecting. Fischer is rarely a sympathetic figure but there is still a terrible poignancy in witnessing his pathetic decline.

Michael Joyce


Director: Liz Garbus

With: Bobby Fischer, Harry Benson.

Length: 92 mins