Friday, May 23, 2008

Bobby Fischer the movie

By Frank “Boy' Pestaño

SINCE Bobby Fischer died last January, I have always believed that Hollywood will feature a movie on the great chess genius.

Universal and Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have tapped Kevin Macdonald (The last King of Scotland) to direct “Bobby Fischer Goes to War,” a drama about the upstart triumph over Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972. It is based on the book by David Edmonds and John Eidinow and scripted by Shawn Slovo. Production will begin later this year.

This film will not be a complete biopic, but instead will focus on his match against Spassky, which became a symbol of the Cold War between the US and Russia. The match, as depicted in the book, is alternately nail-biting and hilarious, as Fischer’s nutty personality leads to totally unreasonable demands on the Icelandic organization.
There is no denying that Bobby Fischer was one hell of an interesting character.

I wrote about this monumental match years ago dubbed “Match of the century” and I would like to quote some portions of my article.

“They called it the match of the century, the greatest confrontation in chess ever. I’ll take you back to the summer of 1972 when chess, for a few weeks, was king and larger than life.

It was a microcosm of the Cold War; each player would bear the responsibility of his country’s honor. Every chess player in the world was closely watching the match and suffering the antics of Fischer. If he won, he would instantly become the legend who had single-handedly defeated the vast Soviet chess machine and the system that spawned it.

There were several personalities who were directly involved in the match. First there was the young television executive named Mike Chase. He was an avid chess player and a member of the Marshall Club. He knew there was a terrific story about the Fischer vs. Spassky match. He said, “No one believed then that chess could be a spectator sports. The only way to capture the American public was to televise the games live.”

Chase got approval from the public television WNET and created what would prove to be an historic event. He invited a co-member of the Marshall Club, Shelby Lyman, for commentary on the demo boards, and grandmaster Edmar Mednis for in-depth analysis. He also had his wife Chris handle the introduction and chitchat.

Their chemistry was electric. As the match went on, New Yorkers loved it and soon the match spread around the country and around the world. At bars around the city, televisions were tuned to chess instead of baseball, housewives would write down the moves for their husbands who wanted to know what Mednis said.

“As the games went on,” Chris later wrote, “the match became a rage, a fad and a hit show. Everyday the switchboards would light up with people trying to help Bobby make his next move.

Reviewers were saying it was great entertainment, even addictive, and people who did not play or understand chess would watch it anyway. Even little girls would bake cookies for Shelby.”

The show was tremendously important for several reasons. It was the first-ever coverage of a chess match, and five hours for every game at that. It popularized the game all over the world as never before and put chess, which was considered a parlor game, into mainstream sports.

Chess players were respected as real, interesting and creative individuals totally at odds with the caricatures—screwballs, layabouts, absentminded—current at that time. And finally, chess professionals now have much to thank the match as prize money rose and appearances became fashionable.”

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