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.