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MovieMaker Editor’s Pick: Back to the Future in Computer Chess
by James Kaelan

MovieMaker Editor’s Pick: Back to the Future in Computer Chess
by James Kaelan

Articles

MovieMaker’s Editor’s Weekend Pick is Computer Chess, though we can’t resist sending a shout out to The Spectacular Now. Two is better than one, right?

computer chess
Andrew Bujalski’s latest feature burrows through the dustbin of broadcast video history to achieve its authentic lo-fi look.

Temporarily disavowing celluloid (he shot his first three movies on 16mm), Austin-based director Andrew Bujalski turned to the most analogue of videos formats for his latest film, Computer Chess, about a group of—you guessed it—computer chess programmers competing in a weekend tournament. Shot on Sony AVC 3260 tube-powered videocameras from 1969, the film has the genuine, low-fidelity, field-rich video look of 1980s television.

“A lot of very rational people told us we should shoot on digital and add filters later,” Bujalski told MovieMaker. “Obviously it’s pretty unbelievable what people can do in post now, and I’m sure you could do a decent approximation, if not a perfect one. But one thing you couldn’t recreate is all the oddities that came with that camera. We never would have thought of placing the glitches where they appear; the camera just brought its own personality.”

When asked what existential contributions the Sony AVC 3260 made in the creation of Computer Chess, Bujalski offered: “It’s a great camera, but I think with any camera you shoot on, or any art you do in any format, it’s important that you pay close attention to your medium. It’s the same with casting an actor. If you want Brad Pitt, that’s great. He’s a star, and a great actor. But you have to ask yourself what he brings to your film.”

The AVC 3260 is like a character actor tailored to a specific role. You wouldn’t use it to shoot a remake of The Searchers (you’d use 65mm film, ideally), just as you wouldn’t cast Michael Shannon as the romantic lead in a film about a soccer coach searching for true love in the suburbs (you’d hire Gerard Butler, apparently). But you would cast Shannon to play a schizophrenic building a shelter in his back yard to protect himself from an imaginary storm, just as you’d use the 3260 to shoot a mockumentary about ’80s computer programmers searching for the answers to life’s most persistent questions (and threesomes).

Computer Chess is currently in limited release. Find a theater near you, here.

ALSO PLAYING: James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now took Sundance by storm in January, drawing magnificent, naturalistic performances from its co-stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Watch it if only for its impressively long takes – one of which, a teenage love scene, stays with you for a while with its aching familiarity. A24 opens the film Friday, August 2 2013.

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