EIFF ’11 Day Two – Bobby Fischer Against the World, Shut Up Little Man! & Our Day Will Come

Bobby Fischer Against the World
Oh god, what could be more boring than a documentary about chess? Don’t be fooled Casta fans! What starts off as a documentary about a young chess master and his rise to fame, soon becomes a character study of a paranoid schizophrenic whose ego and delusions secure him a fall from grace the likes of which I have never before seen.

Don’t be too concerned if you’ve never heard of Bobby Fischer before – despite the fact that he rose to meteoric fame in America in the early seventies (with his chess world championship match taking on almost epic cold war significance), the documentary starts off at Bobby’s roots and tracks his chess career from prodigal beginnings to world championship contender. The film is split into three distinct parts; before, during and after Fischer’s 1972 world championship game against the Russian Spassky – each one leading nicely into the next, giving a very satisfying whistle stop tour of Fischer’s life without dwelling overlong on any one part.

Bobby Fischer Against the World adopts a now standard format of archived footage and talking heads and congratulations need to be passed on to director Liz Garbus and her team for the wealth of footage they have managed to find to tell their story. I was however left feeling that some of the talking heads were a little tacked on – sure it’s great having heavyweights from the world of chess throwing in their two cents, but if they had little to no contact or interaction with Fischer at the time then what use is it focussing on them over the people who had relevance at that point in time? It almost feels like watching a Winston Churchill documentary in which David Cameron appears to tell me that Churchill was one of the most celebrated men of the 20th century – more than a little unnecessary. Forgive me for getting gripey there, but that really was my only major issue – there were at points a few too many people to remember who was who and I was spending longer focussing on who they actually were rather than what they were saying…

Complaining over, it actually worked in my favour that I knew nothing about Fischer before seeing this film as it added a sense of drama and intrigue to the proceedings quite unlike any documentary I’ve seen before – does Fischer win his championship match? What happens then? Whilst other documentaries might reach their peak around the end of act two (more on that below) this film really knocks it out of the park when documenting Fischer’s downward spiral into madness in its endgame – (chess reference, tick!) and thus is a thoroughly entertaining watch from start to finish.

Should you go see it? It’s a very well put together film and I’d certainly recommend giving it a go, however whilst it’s not exclusively for chess fanatics, some knowledge of the basic rules and principles of the game is probably beneficial to help get the most out of it.

Shut up Little Man!
With around a third of the film festival’s programme being made up of documentaries, it’s hardly surprising that I’d catch two in a row at some point. Imagine the proliferation of any number of internet memes or crazes without the internet actually existing yet – that’s basically Shut Up Little Man! in a nutshell. It’s the late eighties and two young friends (Mitch and Eddie Lee) live next door to two old, very sweary men (Pete and Ray) and (not so) surreptitiously record their drunken arguing – through time and coincidence these recordings reach cult underground status until everyone wants a piece of the pie and all manners of “ownership” issues arise.

Shut Up Little Man! starts off as a very funny and stylishly made documentary which couldn’t have been more different to the morning’s earlier film; a distinct lack of archived footage means that the filmmakers had to be more creative to make the documentary more than just a sequence of audio tracks and stills – they use present day Mitch and Eddie Lee to re-enact many of the early events of their story with actors replacing Pete and Ray – it’s an interesting idea which, although a little jarring at first (it’s always weird seeing forty odd year olds acting like twenty year olds) works well enough to convey the events that occurred.

The film builds satisfyingly and reaches its peak at around the hour mark – by this point the recordings have spread all over America, three different parties are trying to make a film of it all and oft repeated snippets of the recordings are only just starting to outstay their welcome. It’s at this important point though that the film starts to tail off – it does verge on asking very interesting questions about ownership, privacy and what constitutes intellectual property – however shies away from these and instead returns focus back on our present day original pair. Mitch embarks on a journey to try and get some interview tine with Pete and Ray’s sometime roommate Tony, and Eddie Lee descends into nonsensical ramblings about what constitutes art – whilst of course still making a few bucks selling Shut Up Little Man! merchandise out of his basement.

The documentary suffers from an awareness of itself – there’s a noticeable dip in quality once they start documenting the making of the documentary, and the fact that there’s nothing to do in the last thirty minutes but talk about the legacy of Shut Up Little Man! twenty years later goes to show that they really just stretched an interesting sixty minute story into a requisite ninety minute shell.

In all fairness though the filmmakers do attempt to show both sides of the story, and Eddie Lee in particular comes off as having delusions of grandeur and an over inflated sense of celebrity than could perhaps be reasonably expected from a man of his stature – unfortunately though in veering away from the questions about whether any of the actions that took place were right, this documentary loses any sense of importance and instead serves only as a comparison piece to how easy it is for these kind of things to spread in modern society.

Should you go see it? Only if you have the ability to withstand the same two or three lines of dialogue over again for ninety minutes or an interest in the origins of the Shut Up Little Man! phenomenon – one which, to be perfectly honest I hadn’t heard of before this film.

Our day Will Come (Notre Jour Viendra)
Vincent Cassel stars in this French drama which, at the outset appears to be a case of “psychologist helps repressed angsty teenager overcome his issues,” but soon descends into sheer madness. And not in a cool way.

Olivier Barthelemy (Rémy) is a bullied redhead with a bad case of pent up anger whose path crosses, seemingly by chance, with that of Cassel’s character Patrick. Things start off reasonable enough with them trying to find Rémy a girl, but pretty soon they’re buying crossbows, escaping to Ireland and forcing men to kiss at weddings. There’s no sense of progression to the events onscreen, certainly not that I could see anyway – no one scene contains anything too bizarre, but put them together and you’re left with a confused and sloppy mess that I couldn’t wait to be over.

This film really took me back to Studying drama at degree level and encountering shock plays where people dig up and eat dead babies. I didn’t get it then and I sure don’t get it now and frankly I’m quite happy not getting it all. There’s probably something deep and meaningful going on here; a retelling of some classic allegory or a housing of subtle themes that will be pored over by academics ad infinitum, but to me (and I imagine most other regular joe cinemagoers) this was nothing short of a complete waste of time; even if one of the main themes is that even the French don’t like ginners.

Should you go and see it? Well done Our Time Will Come – you’ve secured my first resounding no of the festival!

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