Watch it for free* tonight: Bobby Fischer Against the World

*not including the price of HBO

If you read this site frequently, you probably know by now that I’m a bit of a documentary junkie, which is probably why HBO has been sending me screeners of their Documentary Films Summer Series.  It’s just one of the MANY ways I impress the ladies down at my local tavern.  (*uses alternating pectoral flexes to spell out ‘LET’S BONE’ in Morse Code*).  Tonight the series kicks off with Bobby Fischer Against the world at 9 pm ET/PT.

Directed by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World uses interviews and stock footage to tell the story of the world’s most famous chess player, his Rocky IV-like matches against his Russian counterpart, Boris Spassky in 1972, and his gradual descent into paranoid, anti-Semitic, A-holishness.  I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a mostly-talking-head documentary on the subject of chess, but the relationship between genius and insanity remains endlessly compelling.  And the cool thing about watching documentaries on HBO is that you can DVR them and you don’t have to watch it all in one sitting (you know, unless you’re poor and you don’t have DVR like a godd*mned caveman).  Probably my favorite scene in the film is Bobby Fischer’s last press conference, in 2005 in Iceland a country that had sprung him from jail in Tokyo, welcomed him as a citizen, and given him a hero’s welcome, even after his rambling diatribes and wild conspiracy theories about 9/11, Garry Kasparov, and everything else.  At one point in the press conference, Fischer confronts reporter Jeremy Schaap, whose father, Dick Schaap, had apparently once written an article saying Fischer “didn’t have a sane bone in his body.”  Fischer explains to a room full of nervously chuckling press how Schaap (the elder) had befriended him, acting as a father figure, and then, “like a typical Jewish snake,” turned around and written a nasty article (it should be noted that Fischer’s parents were both Jewish).  Schaap (the younger) interjects, saying he hadn’t read his father’s article, but “honestly, I don’t know that you’ve done much here today to disprove anything that he said.”

What follows is one of the longest periods of extended silence (broken only by the shutter snaps in the background) you’ve ever heard.  It is glorious. Anyway, it’s a little slow at times and could perhaps be more focused, but if you like documentaries about troubled Jewish chess champions who slowly turn crazy, paranoid, and anti-Semitic, you’ll love Bobby Fischer Against the World.