Review: “Bobby Fischer Against the World”

"Bobby Fischer Against the World," which made its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, airs tonight at 9 on HBO

Bobby Fischer was, for a brief time, as famous as any man alive, a foot soldier in the Cold War and the greatest player in the history of the world’s most popular board game. But he was also a virulent anti-Semite who was delighted by the events of 9/11 and who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship for playing chess in Yugoslavia. The new documentary "Bobby Fischer Against the World" offers a fascinating portrait of this gifted and troubled man.

It’s difficult for anyone under the age of 35 to get their head around the idea that Fischer's 1972 match with Russian Boris Spassky for the chess championship was a matter of global importance. But director Liz Garbus drives home the scale of the moment with footage of network news anchors saying things like, “We’ll have more on the developments in the Watergate bugging case… But first, Bobby Fischer…” It’s mindboggling.

The portrait of Fischer’s life after Spassky is a bit dissatisfying but it’s hardly Garbus’ fault. Fischer soon forfeited his title and disappeared from public life, popping up only periodically to say something crazy, usually anti-Semitic in nature.

There’s so little record of the man’s life, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint when he tipped from eccentric to seriously ill, but Garbus provides a clue to the moment, one that Fischer shared with Johnny Carson while discussing what it was like to finally win the title he had been chasing since he was 6 years old.

“I just felt different--like something had been taken out of me.”

Garbus accumulates an impressive amount of photos and footage from Fischer’s Brooklyn youth all the way through his coronation in Iceland, and she was able to interview almost everyone connected to the event—organizers, refs, coaches, friends, enemies—allowing "Bobby Fischer Against the World" to offer as full a picture of Fischer as could be hoped for.

You can find out interview with director Liz Garbus here

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