Watching Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess” is like wandering back in time, complete with the accompanying disorientation. It’s set during a weekend tournament for chess-software programmers in 1982, at an anonymous-looking convention hotel, and is filmed with appropriately vintage black-and-white video; the effect is that the actors seem to be floating through a grayish fog. The audience is stuck there as well, at least for a while: “Computer Chess” is filmed as if a camera just happened to show up at the tournament, idly following random story lines.
Not much happens during the film’s brief running time: We watch large computers and their scruffy, vintage-spectacled programmers challenge each other; follow a man trying to scam someone else’s room for the night; peer in on a leftover-from-the-’70s encounter group that’s also booked the hotel for the weekend; listen as the tournament’s announcer tries to gracefully acknowledge the rare presence of a woman programmer. (“This is the team that’s got a lady on it.”)
The 1982 details are a kick, particularly the assortment of beards (some seemingly influenced by Middle-earth) and glasses, as are the attitudes toward the very idea of a computer being smart. At one point, someone discusses how computers might be used for dating, causing someone else to wonder how that might work — “The computers will start dating each other?” But Bujalski doesn’t give us enough in the way of story or characters, and “Computer Chess” eventually seems to just fade away; one of those movies, perhaps, that was more fun to make than it is to watch.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org