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Exclusive clip: It's back to the old future in 'Computer Chess'

August 02, 2013|By Mark Olsen

The film "Computer Chess" has been among the most buzzed-about films of the year ever since it premiered as part of the Next section at the Sundance Film Festival in January.  Local audiences now have a chance to step back in time with the film to explore a previous generation's version of true nerdery and the origins of artificial intelligence.

"Computer Chess" opens Friday in Los Angeles and writer-director Andrew Bujalski is scheduled to appear for Q&As on Friday and Saturday at the Nuart.

The film is set around a weekend computer chess tournament in 1980, as teams of programmers pit their machines against one another. Simply imagining back to the era in which these were the supermachines, forerunners of our current smartphones and tablets, makes the film an intriguingly offbeat slice of life. Add to that Bujalski's unusual decision to shoot the film on modified vintage video equipment to give it the look and feel of something made in 1980.

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This exclusive clip nicely encapsulates much of the appeal of "Computer Chess" as it moves between a lone young programmer hard at work problem-solving bugs in his system and another group hanging out while musing on questions such as "How do you get to be you?" that flit between the mundane and the cosmic.

Cinematographer Matthias Grunsky has explained the difficult process of finding the cameras and modifying them to work with more modern data systems. Bujalski has also noted some of the visual inspirations for the film's look, including photographer William Eggleston's seminal video work "Stranded in Canton."

Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey referred to the film as "genius," and New York Times critic A.O. Scott called it "sneakily brilliant." (The film is a solid 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The cast includes “Dazed and Confused” actor Wiley Wiggins, film professor and critic Gerald Peary, a pair of film editors and a few actual computer programmers making their acting debuts. Speaking prior to the film's Sundance premiere, Bujalski spoke of the film's attitude toward deep-rooted enthusiasm and the passion of following one's esoteric interests, as today's odd pursuit can lead to tomorrow's breakthrough.

“Nowadays we live in a world where you can be a quote-unquote nerd but have a nice haircut and go to the gym and have a great-looking girlfriend or boyfriend,” Bujalski said. “Which isn’t to say you couldn’t be a handsome computer programmer back in the day, but it was just a lot more insular."

"Something about those guys almost seem like monks to me," he added. "They were so dedicated to what they were doing, often to the exclusion of the rest of the world. And they built the world we live in now.”


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Sundance 2013: Andrew Bujalski and the absurd in 'Computer Chess'

Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus


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