Shot in deliberately amateur and grubby black and white - complete with those stray hair curls on the lens - Computer Chess is a film trying to point up something about a kind of emaciated American suburban life.
It pokes a stick at various snaky things, the soulessness of technology, the way even the computers of 30 years ago could take over the lives of people, even if they are geeks. Computer Chess hints at a future world run by much zippier and far more compact hard drives, but a future that might well be sinister.
Starring a cast of unknowns, the film is set over the course of a weekend computer chess tournament in a cheap hotel somewhere in the USA in the early eighties. A number of male teams are trying to beat computers at chess in a tournament. There are prizes and speeches from a rather self-regarding, vain host. Meanwhile, a video cameraman slavishly records the dull, lifeless contests between man and machine.
Murky in how it perceives things - through a dodgy lens where the characters are occasionally out of focus – it is also murky in its subjects. The team consists of a gang of nerdy, dysfunctional males from across the age spectrum, you wouldn't really want to know them, truth to tell. Some of them sit around hotel rooms, drinking beer and trying to engage in locker room banter. Trouble is the inscrutable locker room banter is all about, well, chess and computers.
There are misfits too, like the pill-robbing dude in a suit who never quite manages to book an actual hotel room. There are a few women in the movie, the only female contestant, a timid young lady, and a dramatically-coiffured prostitute who wanders nonchalantly around the hotel corridors.
A certain black comedy begins to ferment, but almost like you wouldn't notice. The computer chess geeks begin to interface with a bunch of American couples who are trying to get more intimate with each other, in a so-called "encounter group."
In one hilarious scene, a married swinger couple attempt to initiate a shy young computer expert into their sexual shenanigans. Somehow, Computer Chess feels like it's set in the Nixon era, which was ten years earlier. Yet by gently nodding towards the coming decades, it ends up being prophetic, almost incidentally so.
One contestant says the future of computers is in dating. Another remarks confidentially and with a certain pride that he believes the Pentagon have heard about them and their convention. Hmm, how right he would prove to be.