By Don Simpson | December 13, 2011
Director: Liz Garbus
In 1972, the “Match of the Century” pitted the American Bobby Fischer against the Russian Boris Spassky at the World Chess Championship in Iceland. Director Liz Garbus builds her documentary around the drama of this one match — specifically the arrogance and eccentricities of Fischer and the inescapable air of Cold War paranoia. It is Fischer’s quirky and psychotic idiosyncracies that make him an interesting subject for this documentary and we observe as these unpredictable personality traits cause him to tumble into tragic madness.
At age 15, Fischer had become the youngest grandmaster. He won the 1963–64 U.S. Championship 11-0, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament. By the time Fischer competed against Spassky at the World Chess Championship, he was like a rock star. After beating Spassky, Fischer declined to defend his title; eventually losing it by default in 1975. Fischer stopped playing chess and went into his “wilderness period” — he even broke from the Worldwide Church of God, with which he had been closely associated since the late 1960s.
Fischer briefly resurfaced in 1992 for a rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia, violating President George H. W. Bush’s Executive Order that implemented United Nations sanctions against engaging in economic activities in Yugoslavia. Wanted by the United States government, Fischer never returned to the United States. This intensified Fischer’s propensity for spewing hateful rhetoric about the United States, which then came to a head in his gleeful response to 9/11. (Fischer was also an anti-semite.)
Archival newsreel footage is teamed with a bevy of exclusive interviews with Harry Benson, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cavett, Saemi Paullson (Fischer’s bodyguard), Paul Marshal (Fischer’s attorney) and Harry Sneider (Fischer’s trainer); chess champions Gary Kasparov, Susan Polgar, Larry Evans and Dr. Anthony Saldy; authors Dave Edmonds, Malcolm Gladwell and David Shenk. Bobby Fischer Against the World showcases the bitter irony of how someone with the ability to calculate every possible outcome of every possible decision is ultimately unable to function as a rational human being. The footage featured in Bobby Fischer Against the World supports the conclusion that Fischer suffered from severe mental illness; unfortunately he was never officially diagnosed, and most people will only remember Fischer for the countless crazy and irrational things he did and said.
Bobby Fischer Against the World was recently released on DVD in the United States by New Video.