Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Masters of Cinema - COMPUTER CHESS on Blu-ray ""

Monday, January 20, 2014

Masters of Cinema - COMPUTER CHESS on Blu-ray

Andrew Bujalski is absolutely one of the more interesting voices in independent-minded cinema right now and I believe that COMPUTER CHESS may be a "turning point" kind of film for him. I have certainly been a fan of his body of work to this point, but I put this film in the same camp as THE FIGHTER was for David O. Russell. Obviously the two films couldn't be more different, but each represents a certain solidification of vision and marks a time when both filmmakers may be stepping into a new realm of sorts and starting to really find their groove and make the films they were meant to make. While at first glance, COMPUTER CHESS is not some remarkable departure from the low-key character pieces that Bujalski has been making, there is something indescribable about it that brings it to another level. It is certainly more ambitious than his other work. It's a film that has stuck with me more than anything else he's made. One piece of this enigmatic puzzle is certainly the fact that Bujalski chose to shoot this movie on antiquated late-60s model Sony AVC-3260 video cameras. That element truly makes the movie so singularly unique and unforgettable. It is truly a document of time travel and serves to transport the viewer back to a place when computers were just beginning to show the earmarks of the impact they would have in our society. It also makes it feel like some kind of cable access production that you've just stumbled upon and that unique and odd sense of voyeurism it delivers is different than I'm used to for sure. Part of this has to do with Bujalski's quiet observational and conversational approach to character and storytelling. In this case the form and style come together in this pretty magical way and make something strange and yet so thought provoking that I haven't been able to get it out of my head, months afyer seeing it for the first time. I can't totally figure the movie out and I love that. It is comedy that seems completely imbued and informed by Bujalski's singular sense of humor. It's just feels quite different than so many of the films I've been seeing in recent years (especially at this budget level). It has this quality of muted psychedelia by way of Richard Linklater about. Linklater is the closest parallel I can draw to another filmmaker in terms of the types of conversations and the way we are exposed to them in this film. There are existential and philosophical tangents that are both enlightening and funny at the same time. It is a movie that I know I will return to again and again over the years in my continuous attempts to decipher it. I'd really love to see Bujalski continue down more comically and ambiguously rich avenues like this one in his films to come. He is certainly a voice that I am fully excited to hear more from. Like I said, I have certainly enjoyed his films thusfar, but this is something else altogether and I love it.


Special Features etc:
Masters of Cinema has done their usual bang-up job of putting together a really nice disc here. First off, the Blu-ray transfer of the film looks very very good. Of course the movie is this shot-on-video oddity if sorts, but its unique visual style is perfectly preserved and delivered in this format. 
Secondly, the disc contains a nice set of supplements as well.

Interviews - 
Andrew Bujalski - 28 mins. Director Bujalski expounds upon the origins of the idea for the film, difficulties of production via the old analog cameras, working with non-actors, his early career and so forth.
It's a solid informative interview. Bujalski is an intelligent, well spoken guy and seems in some small way like a character in one of his own movies, and I find him fascinating. It's hard not to watch a movie like this and not want to get to know a bit more about the guy who made it.
Wiley Wiggins - 22 Mins. Actor Wiggins talks about meeting and getting to know Bujalski, his preparation and research process for the movie, 
Like Bujalski, Wiggins is a very intelligent, affable gentleman and is therefore an enjoyable, entertaining interview. He just comes off  as a guy that'd be cool to hang out with.
Alex Lipschultz - 21 mins. Lipschultz was a producer on the film and he goes into a lot of the casting, locations and other elements of production here. He really gives a good sense of all the challenges and difficulties of making the movie which were many and varied.

-The disc also includes 2 commentary tracks. The commentary by computer programmer Murray Campbell is quite interesting. He participated in many computer chess tournaments himself and even programmed Deep Blue which was the first computer to beat a world champion chess player..
He gives much insight into the real events he participated in, how the tournaments were run, and where and the kinds of folks who attended them(also how the events evolved over time). He also comments on the authenticity of the film and how it has a solid, almost documentary-like feel at the beginning. It's a nice, informative track and gives some context and historical perspective to the film and it's narrative. It's overall an enjoyable, educational commentary.
-Also interesting is the bonus commentary  with 'an enthusiastic stoner'(Ken Osborne?). It's rather silly and of course kind of pointless(as you might guess), but still amusing nonetheless.
-Additionally, there is a very short tutorial featurette regarding the 1969 Sony AVC-3260 video camera  with cinematographer Matthias Grunsky. It's pretty short(less than 5 mins) but is a neat little piece that shows off the very simple camera that the production had adapted for shooting the movie.
Lastly, these features are included as well:
• Crowdfunding plea video
• Sundance Film Festival promo
• 4 Computer Chess reference games  


I enjoyed the inclusion here of Bujalski's 2013 1 minute short film ANALOG GOOSE. He made this short upon the request of the New York Times for their website. They asked him to show how he was a filmmaker in 1 minute and the result is very much in keeping with the odd energy of COMPUTER CHESS.

I really have to take a moment to compliment the cover design (from Masters of Cinema's UK poster for the film) as it was, for me, beautifully reminiscent of the wonderful old artwork from Atari Gane cartridges back in the day. Come to find out it was actually designed by Cliff Spohn, who actually designed the Atari 2600 covers for their games Asteroids, Defender and Video Chess.

No comments: