Bobby Fischer: Chess Star as Super Nova


Mad Chess Master

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.

Love, Fame, Adoration, All Fail Marilyn Monroe


Love, Marilyn builds its subject out of her own words, based on recently discovered diaries, jottings, poetry, and other musings written by Marilyn Monroe.

A dozen actors read her words and the words of those who knew her—those friends and associates usually caused her great consternation and pain.

Marilyn Monroe still today plays heroine and victim at once, misunderstood still, and exploited at every turn.

The footage of her acting, both on and off screen, grows more desperate. She herself regarded Marilyn as a separate creature she had to play for the media and public.

In fact, Marilyn created her own Frankenstein’s Monster out of body language and platinum blonde hair that ran amok out of the Hollywood studios and was chased down by the media with cameras instead of pitchforks.

Director Liz Garbus does her best to take the luminous star and catch it falling from the firmament. Only in death has Miss Monroe touched more people than in life as a movie star.

No one who tied his wagon to Marilyn comes out of this documentary unscathed. Her two husbands, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, knew her better than anyone else in the world—and knew her not at all. In later years they regretted the way they treated her.

No one attempts to explain why Monroe wrote down so many feelings in couplets and free verse on dozens of pieces of paper. Was she planning to write a script? Did she plan an autobiography later in life? Was it merely an attempt to exorcize her demons by putting them on paper?

No one in 20th century America comes close to her iconography and her ability to become a goddess walking in our midst for a few years. (We see James Dean as a male counterpart.) She glowed on screen with some magic that defies explanation.

This little documentary, using her own words, may be the closest attempt to doing her justice and giving her the platform she may have hoped to employ if her life had not been snuffed out so young.

Marilyn herself pegged the trouble to trusting too easily, too many, too often. How sad indeed.