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Dick Schaap: “How does it feel now you have the World Championship and you’re the best in the world at what you’ve devoted your life to? How does that feel inside?

Bobby Fischer: “It feels pretty good, yeah. I mean my goal now is to play a lot more chess. I feel I haven’t played enough chess.”

I just finished watching HBO’s ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’ again. As a disclaimer, I haven’t got a clue how chess is played, nor do I have the patience or tactical mind to bother, but I’m fascinated by the Fischer mythos. Not to the point that I’ll defend his behaviour, but without attempting to justify his idiotic anti-Semitic views later in life, it’s probably safe to say that with his bizarre worldview, Bobby was on the cusp of sanity and susceptible to some nonsensical world views. Lest we forget, Bobby was Jewish.

To witness this reclusive legend in full babbling beard mode as Liz Garbus’s engrossing portrait concludes, wandering pond side in Reyjjavik with Dr Kari Stefansson who literally has to tell him to shut the fuck up to break his constant monologue on nuclear wars and conspiracy, proves that he was no malevolent eccentric, but a truly ill individual. It’s a squalid end for an enigma. But beyond that, the battle against the Russian, Boris Spassky that stays legendary. No amount of rants can tarnish that moment.

I recommend both ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’ and the excellent book, ‘Bobby Fischer Goes to War’ by David Edmonds and John Edinow for a superior study of genius personified, bizarre antics and a paranoid grand master’s rise from child prodigy warped by his mother’s curious treatment of him at an early age, thrust (with a cash incentive) into a battle between east and west that included Henry Kissinger’s involvement and allegations of radioactive cheating. Bobby was a rockstar with that broad Brooklyn drawl, inadvertent showmanship from that Asperger’s style belligerence and obsession and aptitude for psychological warfare.

The film isn’t some cool teacher, “Hey! Chess can be fun!” affair, but a fast paced document of a time when the world stopped — from pressing matters in Vietnam to more conventional sporting events — at the press of that chess clock. As a supplement to Edmonds and Edinow’s book, it was great to finally see the footage of Bobby taking on a room of old masters as a bored-looking young boy, bugging out over camera sounds, bounding through airports and engaging in hotel room interviews with a curious mix of swagger and total unease.

While the documentary doesn’t delve into Bobby’s fascinating relationship with bodyguard Saemi Rock Palsson (you’re better off hunting down ‘Me & Bobby Fischer’ for that tale in full), Fischer’s humanity is revealed by Scottish LIFE photographer Harry Benson. Harry evidently had a curious chemistry with Fischer that meant he let him shoot him in some of his most private moments, including some comically solemn-faced workout sessions or blank-faced and exhausted in a series of temporary lodgings. Those images are captured in the Powerhouse release, ‘Bobby Fischer’ which gathers plenty of unpublished images of Bobby at work and play. Though more often, with that gaze, it seems that play was often work.

Harry’s work adds some evidence to tales of Fischer’s love of animals, with his rumoured affection visible during his outdoor shots in the Icelandic countryside. That’s a rare moment of seemingly non-calculated documented behaviour from the man around the time of the Spassky game in summer 1972. After victory, Bobby went to the hills rather than revelling in his win and did some wandering. It’s an ethereal moment in a troubled existence and Benson captures it perfectly. With the side-parting, knitwear and woven blankets, it’s like the best brand look book that never was, albeit one with more sensible slacks.

Watch the documentary, buy the books and take in this complex contemporary tragedy of warped integrity and the dangers of all-encompassing obsession. You at the back, accusing every rapper who breaks the Billboard chart of poorly researched Illuminati associations might want to pay particular attention and treat Mr. Fischer’s mental decline as a cautionary tale in how to go from lithe tactician to rotund berserker in just a few moves…

While we’re talking eccentrics, kudos to whoever uploaded this 1991 episode of ‘Pump it Up’ that’s extremely Biz Markie-centric, shown around the release of ‘I Need a Haircut’ with the amiable rap genius unaware of the legal shit storm on the horizon due to some uncleared samples. Quite fittingly, someone at Universal has blocked part 1 for some pointless legal reason that simply fuels Sendspace “purchases” over iTunes. Keep on fighting the good fight Universal.


For every entry that looks at sweatshirts too closely, this blog has to have the entries that alienate everyone, reduce traffic and reek of sheer self-indulgence. This is one of them. It goes without saying that the clips linked here aren’t for all tastes either – especially if needle use makes you gag, or if you’re at work and garbled obscenities from your computer could get you in hot water.

I really like drug documentaries. Not the ones about conspiracies or all that hippie hash forum nonsense – street level cinéma vérité style is more my thing. I don’t get a vicarious thrill out of the subjects’ misfortunes, nor do the documentaries make me feel better about myself, though ‘ll admit to the occasional chuckle at the chaos that accompanies single-minded lifestyle of the addict. There’s no room to get pious here – we all know an unfortunate character who managed to render their life a cautionary tale, as experimentation twists into a nihilistic existence, but it makes the subjects fascinating.

The very best mix shocking scenes with tenderness, carrying a certain humanity at the core. Leo Leigh and Andy Capper’s ‘Swansea Love Story’ is an instant classic. Grim, moving and haunting, the level of access is remarkable, and further proof that Vice’s VBS are the masters of the online TV realm. Whereas previous masterpieces of the genre are set on America’s east and west coasts (though middle America’s spawned some truly chilling meth-abuse footage as seen in ‘Crank: Made In America’ ), parts of Swansea in 2009 seems to match that hard-to-shake hopelessness that the Bronx and L.E.S. of old carried when the camera followed some of their desperate denizens on their daily routines.

That an increasing number still exist in this cycle is a tragedy, and that Cornelius and Amy prove so likable, surrounded by an eclectic bunch of drug buddies, makes ‘Swansea Love Story’ a masterpiece. The flatulent “Old Famous” Clinty’s introduction might be the funniest of any documentation to date, before the scale of his plight manifests itself. “P.M.A. P.M.A. – positive mental attitude…”

Other classics of the genre have come courtesy of broadcasters like HBO in their prolific ‘America Undercover’ series. Definitive drug documentaries from the US include ‘Junkie Junior’ – full of South Bronxed-out footage from 1981 as it charts the miserable existence of Junior Rios, whose addiction continues up to the film’s 1986 broadcast. It was the brilliant ‘Streetwise’ from 1984, about Seattle’s runaways that had me hooked on the narcotic side of the subject matter, and 1989’s ‘One Year In A Life Of Crime’ depicts some significantly less likeable characters robbing for drug money – followed up with an equally unsettling sequel nearly a decade later, it’s one of the very best from Jon Alpert (co-founder of the Downtown Community Television Center), and you can see part one right here.

Like ‘Junkie Junior’ it’s worth your time as a portrait of the era as much as it is a powerful depiction of an illegal lifestyle. On the smalltown subject, 1995’s ‘High On Crack Street: Lost Lives In Lowell’ co-directed by Alpert, draws parallels between a decline in industry and a growth in drug use – a topic revisited in ‘Swansea Love Story.’

1999’s ‘Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street’ exposes just how nightmarish San Francisco’s Tenderloin district can be, stripping the heroin lifestyle of any glamour, and 2007’s ‘Dope Sick Love’ isn’t too far from Capper and Leigh’s approach, sticking with the couples, but it’s astonishingly candid. Matt, one of the film’s key characters really does reach rock bottom; and it’s captured on camera. You’ve been warned. HBO’s whole ‘Addiction’ season from 2007, containing a full-length film made by a variety of filmmakers, including D.A. Pennebaker covered all bases of addiction, and led to the related screening of ‘Cracked Not Broken’ about a middle-class girl who hit the rock in a major way, and 2006’s oddball and brilliant ‘TV Junkie,’ culled from 1000s of hours of self-filmed footage capturing TV presenter Rick Kirkham’s “functioning” and spiralling crack habit.

Curiously, my favourite drug-related depiction is hardly even a documentary – 1987’s ‘Story of a Junkie’ aka. ‘Gringo’ a semi-fictionalized account of ‘Punk’ magazine affiliate John Spaceley’s everyday antics. Directed by Lech Kowalski, the man behind the brilliant ‘DOA,’ ‘…Junkie’ was distributed by masters of schlock, Troma with an appropriately lurid poster, but it’s a hugely effective piece of filmmaking. John, playing ‘Gringo’ scores, shoots up with his associates (no special effects necessary), skates down the street, and gets robbed (faked) while wandering around 1984’s Lower East Side like a man on a mission.

Full of the kind of atmosphere money can’t buy, it’s squalid, edgy and brilliant, and for fellow fans of depictions of NYC pre-cleanup, it’s highly recommended. Spaceley reputedly cleaned up, but succumbed to AIDS in 1993. Kowalski includes a cameo by a sickly John in his hard-to-find 1999 Johnny Thunders doc, ‘Born To Lose’ which someone’s kindly uploaded here. Notably, Kowalski’s 1984 16mm short ‘Breakdance Test’ was a primer for a proposed full-length on the topic, but Lech found the subject “annoying” and passed on it.


This blog is, in a convoluted way, a hype blog of sorts. Except it’s the stuff that gets me hyped, which means it’s always going to dip into dark realms of self-indulgence that should alienate more than a few people. That’s just how I like it. Forget retrospectives for the moment too. The lead into 2010 is going to be underwhelming, but as the year unravels and you get used to writing ‘2010’ on cheques or paying-in slips (both fairly old-fashioned habits to carry a date that seems so futuristic, but, hey, for the most part, we’re a regressive people) there’s some good things on the horizon. It won’t be all-wack-everything in the near future. Why? Because here’s twenty reasons to be cheerful over the next twelve months –

Continue reading 20 REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL IN 2010