Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, currently playing at Film Forum, is an odd case. Even a movie like the classic Women in the Dunes posits an atmosphere that is somewhat engaging—in that case due to the existential inundation it so wonderfully describes. Let’s take horrifying movies like The Silence of the Lambs or The Shining or the crème de la crème of frightening movies When a Stranger Calls. As troubled as these landscapes are, they are places that you could imagine yourself trapped in. Computer Chess does for artificial intelligence what Boogie Nights did for porn. The film introduces a cast of nerds as devoid of intelligence, as Boogie Nights produced porn stars lacking in eroticism. The setting of the movie is a l980 computer chess convention and the drab black and white in which the film is shot is a kind of computerized chess board in brownout. Stasi and Tsar 3 are two of the chess programs and there’s an iconoclastic character named Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige) who walks around in a three piece double knit suit that one of the characters in Saturday Night Fever might have worn to work Monday morning. Papageorge floats between the convention and a group of Esalen type spiritualists who follow an African guru. Bujalski’s film is beyond parody. The assortment of geeks and seekers rolling huge anachronistic consoles around their hotels rooms has all the makings of parody, but Computer Chess is really metaparody, if such a thing can be said to exist. We’re in Todd Solondz land in this parody of parody that turns simple comedy on its head. The problem is that despite all its brilliant concepts, it's difficult to watch. The world of the film is quirkily repellant; you don’t want to be there. The score accompanying the final credits recalls another 80’s icon Tiny Tim. If you like Tiny Tim, you’ll probably love Computer Chess.
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