Weather Updates

‘Computer Chess’: A knighty wind sweeps up ’80s nerds

Wiley Wiggins Patrick Riester star “Computer Chess” about showdown artificial intelligence experts 1980s.

Wiley Wiggins and Patrick Riester star in “Computer Chess,” about a showdown of artificial intelligence experts in the 1980s.

storyidforme: 55506012
tmspicid: 20352233
fileheaderid: 9425509


Peter Patrick Riester

Martin Wiley Wiggins

Michael Myles Paige

Shelly Robin Schwartz

Tom Gordon Kindlmann

Kino Lorber presents a film written and directed by Andrew Bujalski. Running time: 91 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens today at the Music Box Theatre.

Updated: October 28, 2013 6:45AM

A naturalist comic of inarticulate manners, writer-director Andrew Bujalski attempts the ensemble styles of Robert Altman and Christopher Guest to peer into a micro-culture in “Computer Chess.”

Artificial intelligence nerds from Cal Tech, MIT and maybe the CIA gather for matches that might be modeled on the North American Computer Chess Championships held in Dallas three times in the ’80s. The organizer could be a version of David Levy, who bet in 1968 that no computer would beat a human at chess for at least a decade. “Computer Chess” is set on a weekend in an Austin hotel shared by a New Age touchy-feely workshop. Cats inhabit hallucinations and hallways alike.

Affectionate attention to early ’80s-era detail extends to the film’s “Analog NTSC Video” format. Many scenes frame a young man documenting the chess matches with a Sony Portapak video camera like the ones Bujalski’s actual cinematographer used. There is no conceit that the black-and-white “Computer Chess” is archival video shot by that onscreen character. Nonetheless, the film shifts to color with faux celluloid artifacts when the plot takes a side trip from the hotel.

Although the fashions and phrases are authentic, the asocial characters fail to “interface.” Typically casting non-actors, Bujalski here uses critic Gerald Peary, animator Bob Sabiston and University of Chicago computer scientist Gordon Kindlmann, co-author of “Superquadric Glyphs for Symmetric Second-Order Tensors.” Kindlmann will appear at the two Music Box screenings along with David Slate, who helped create the pioneering Chess 2.0 program in 1969 at Northwestern University. His team won the first North American Computer Chess Championship in 1970.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago freelance writer.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.