COMPUTER CHESS (Andrew Bujalski, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Monday, December 23, 7:00
Series continues through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Earlier this year, the Park Ave. Armory was home to The Machine, a high-tech live drama depicting the 1997 battle between chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue computer. Andrew Bujalski takes viewers back to 1980, the very early days of man vs. machine, in the decidedly low-tech indie flick Computer Chess. Shot in grainy black-and-white in sixteen days by Bujalski regular Matthias Grunsky (Nights and Weekends) using the early analog Sony AVC 3260 tube video camera, the very funny comedy follows a weekend chess competition hosted by grandmaster Pat Henderson (Gerald Peary), who has invited a group of computer programmers to play one another, with the winner getting the opportunity to match up against him in the ultimate challenge. Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation), Grunsky, and production designer Michael Bricker get the era just right as a bunch of nerdy dudes, including Patrick Riester as perpetually nervous virgin Peter Bishton, Wiley Wiggins as pompous Martin Beuscher, Robin Schwartz as mousy Shelly Flintic, Gordon Kindlmann as the worshipped Tom Schoesser, and Myles Paige as Michael Papageorge, the anticorporate independent programmer who can’t find anywhere to sleep, interact over games of chess that show while they deal well with computers, they have a lot to learn about real life. Throw in an EST-like sexual reawakening seminar led by guru Keneiloe (Tishuan Scott) at the same low-rent hotel and things start getting even further complicated. Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance, Computer Chess is a splendidly rendered cinema vérité mockumentary about making, and not making, connections, both human and mechanical, preprogrammed and improvised, a fun trip back to a more innocent time before the digital age took over. (Anyone remember MS-DOS?) And it’s particularly riotous seeing these old computer beasts being lugged, pushed, pulled, and carried, somewhat larger and heavier than today’s laptops and handheld devices. Computer Chess is screening December 23 at 7:00 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” which consists of exemplary films that MoMA believes will stand the test of time, continuing with such works as Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Leviathan, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, and Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12.