DATELINE: MAD GENIUS AMOK
Well-made documentaries have become a lost art, but Bobby Fischer Against the World proves the impact is still there.
Reclusive madman Fischer was once the toast of the chess world, considered by all to be a poorly socialized genius. Once he slipped away, there was no retrieving him. In many ways he paralleled the great Vaslav Nijinsky, the Russian ballet star who lost his mind in his 20s and spent the rest of his life in a Swiss mental hospital.
When genius goes bad, there is no half-way about it.
Fischer was not so lucky. Once his paranoia set in, he knew the CIA and NSA were out to get him with radiation through his teeth. He was born of a Jewish political activist mother and father he never knew. For a time he was an American folk hero who dispatched the Russians at the chess board during the Cold War.
A child prodigy, he was not antisocial, just never understood people or society. He finally reacted badly to press attention. For a time he humored the world by appearing with Dick Cavett, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and other pop culture icons. Then, the roof caved in.
This careful documentary seems to collect all the media images and footage—from the 15 year old’s appearance on a game show to his ranting anti-Semitism in Iceland before he died.
In between he had a glorious short run in 1972 as a superstar to behold. He beat Boris Spassky at chess that became a sport like the Super Bowl.
He either played psychological warfare with his opponents, or was already showing signs of deranged behavior. He won the Cold War and became an expatriate, wanted by his own government for violating State Department rules on where he could play chess.
Sad and disheartening, Bobby Fischer falls apart before our eyes in this brilliant documentary—and no one was there to pick up the pieces. Directed by Liz Garbus.