About COMPUTER CHESS: Did These Geeks Inherit The Earth? Andrew Bujalski Doesn't Comment
Andrew Bujalski's previous films featured college graduates struggling toward adulthood and personal clarity, dangling the potential for existential crises in front of them without ever delving in; Computer Chess seems to respond to that lack, watching computer programmers compete to build the first program to best a human at chess. While each battles to be the first to render humans obsolete (for the game of chess, anyway) the results of their war are something Bujalski calls "turbo charged mediocrity." Can they make the machine think? No. But can they make a really fast calculator? Youbetcha!
The convention head gives a slideshow and describes a mysterious figure called “The Turk,” the only “computer” to win a chess match against a man. Later "The Turk" was found to have a little chess master stowed inside it, making it a sort of intellectual Trojan horse--and a great metaphor for Computer Chess: it’s a comedy in documentary clothing, a philosophical battle inside a capitalist one, a present we won't realize will undo us. In the opening, the camera roves around the conference guests. Bujalski explains: “In the opening, we didn’t have any better plan than to go around the room and have the extras in character talk to us. When I got the footage back and it looked so real—it would be easy to pass that off as documentary if we wanted to. Already there was this conceit built in: a cameraman is a character, and some of the footage may or may not be his; that’s very ambiguous. There was something mischievous about putting our best documentary foot forward and establishing a tone that we could then spend the next 90 minutes demolishing.”
He says his biggest goal for the film is to be fun and give viewers the room to choose the existential route or the comic one. “It’s a constant question when you’re editing: Am I making this so computer desk programmers will watch it and say this or that is accurate, or am I making it so a normal person will know what’s going on? There’s always some feeling of sink or swim in the movies I like. I like to be pushed in a little over my head. If I’m in too deep I can’t get much out of it but there’s a level at which it’s fun and exciting to feel like you don’t quite know what’s going on but you’d like to. I’m always trying to walk that line.”