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Monday, September 14, 2009

Chess on film - the history of chess in movies!

Chess on Film
By Dylan Loeb McClain

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As one of the oldest and most ubiquitous of games, chess has appeared in movies almost since people started making them. While there have been some movies where the game played a central role, even advancing the plot, the game is usually a bit player.

When chess appears in films or on television, it often gives the actors something to do while they talk, and the subtext seems to be that their characters must be intelligent if they can play the game. Of course, it is a proxy for strategy and conflict, so it appears in advertising, sometimes in surprising places, as in this recent advertisement for the National Basketball Association playoffs.

Often chess is included in a film because it is a favorite past time of one of the principals making the movie, as for example in the films of Stanley Kubrick, who loved the game and sometimes popped into the Marshall Chess Club on West 10th Street in Manhattan.

Now an Italian man named Lucio Etruscus has put together four compilations of clips from films and television shows in which chess appeared. The compilations are set to music and can be found here, here, here and here.

Chess also seems to be fertile ground for people who want to try their hands at animation. There are quite a few animated clips on YouTube that use chess pieces, but this one is particularly remarkable.

14 Comments

  1. 1. May 23, 2009 10:32 am Link

    Interesting entry, I enjoyed the four "Chess Rhapsodies" with some of my favorites: "Searching for Bobby Fischer", "The Luzhin Defence", etc. But I didn't see one, "2001: A Space Odyssey" with HAL beating the human crew member. Here is the game:

    http://www.chess.com/article/view/2001-a-chess-space-odyssey

    As an amateur animator, I also enjoyed the claymation. Here's another modern show with a chess sequence, "The Wire" (caution, some bad language):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1HUlTKvDUI

    "The King stay the King" - D'Angelo

    — Steve Kennedy
  2. 2. May 23, 2009 6:26 pm Link

    can anyone shed any light on two questions of chess and movie history? the character james bond was created by ian fleming. long after fleming died in 1964, it became widely known that during the second world war he was a very successful british intelligence operative who was well aware of the breaking of the german enigma codes by british codebreakers building on the efforts of the poles. this was one of the most important allied secrets during the war. fleming worked with the codebreakers and conceived operation ruthless. this was a plan to obtain an enigma machine that was not actually carried out for technical reasons, but very likely contributed to the plot for the movie U-571. it is surely no coincidence that a number of james bond plots revolve around equipment for breaking codes.

    the british codebreakers included cho'd(hugh) alexander, harry golombek, stuart milner-barry and many other chess players. alexander was a legend in british intelligence and after WW II he headed their codebreaking unit for decades. it is widely believed that he was not allowed to play chess in eastern europe because of fears that the russians would kidnap him.

    some years ago i read in an earlier edition of david kahn's codebreakers that while playing in a tournament somewhere alexander learnt that bronstein was also a codebreaker. bronstein was spelt differently in kahn's influential book, but i have to believe that he meant david bronstein.

    which gets us to my questions of chess and movie history. in the 1963 bond movie 'from russia with love' one of the villains is the GM kronsteen, smashing a hapless opponent in a tournament game. this is a miniscule part of one of the clips referred to above, but can also be seen here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoGFj_NH36c&feature=PlayList&p=34572FC90076E847&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=12

    it turns out that kronsteen's win is based on spassky-bronstein, USSR championship 1960.
    http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1034110&kpage=4

    my questions:
    - was david bronstein a codebreaker for the soviets?
    - was the spassky-bronstein game chosen with this knowledge, with the loser on the opposite side of alexander?

    — L
  3. 3. May 24, 2009 4:22 am Link

    "The Seventh Seal," by Ingmar Bergman (1957) has scenes of Max von Sydow playing against the Grim Reaper.

    — Dan
  4. 4. May 24, 2009 9:50 am Link

    One of Satyajit Ray's film is titled `Chess-Players'. Its two protagonists are chess-addicts, who do not realise that British are playing another game of chess, to acquire the north-Indian state of Awadh.

    — Kapil
  5. 5. May 24, 2009 11:17 am Link

    chess the "game" is for retards…chess is actually a simple BINARY SCHEMATIC which shows in 3 dimensions the formation of numbers and letters.
    because of the limitations of a 2 dimensional surface, the flat board 99% of people miss the realization that chess is far more than a "game"which it is not.

    here is the equation…
    wave pulse by the square root of N to the 6thpwr denoting the movement of an electron in PI around a line of concentric force,56 radians persecond.
    for math purposes the line of concentric force is shown down the middle.
    here are some clues for you..the king moves one space each direction thus making a mathamatical arc of 180 degrees…the queen moves any number of spaces any direction….
    in engineering male is sending female is recieving since the electron moves in PI the line of concentric force is a receiving force thus the female or queen can appear ANYWHERE within PI potentIally..hence any number of spaces any direction……………………………………

    ever READ ABOUT a so called CHAKRA this equation explains it and the origin of chess/the SQUARE OF MERCURY

    an old cathode ray tube uses the same basic equation to produce an electron beam
    .
    CHESS IS TV…………………………………..

    — judge alan
  6. 6. May 24, 2009 11:32 am Link

    Chess, which was invented in India, has been intrinsic to the country's literature as well as films for a very long time. One of the most compelling examples of the game as a literary device as well as a movie theme is "The Chess Players" or 'Shatranj ke Khlidai' based on the book by the great Hindi writer Munshi Premchand and made into a film by the redoubtable Satyajit Ray.

    The game here is both a metaphor as well as an actual act of apathy and indifference by the two players in the face of the British confiscation of a a major king's domain.

    — Mayank Chhaya
  7. 7. May 24, 2009 3:05 pm Link

    I forgot to mention a good resource, the book "Chess in the Movies" by Bob Basalla. Wtih over 2000 movies summarized in about 400 pages of small print, it is pretty much the "Oxford Companion to Chess", except for movies. An example of what you can find is "Chess Fever", a 1925 Soviet silent comedy about the 1925 International Chess Tournament in Moscow. I haven't seen it yet, but with a star turn by Capablanca himself, it sounds pretty funny.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0015673/

    Amazon has it as part of a three movie collection of Soviet silent films.

    — Steve Kennedy
  8. 8. May 25, 2009 5:35 am Link

    see this, one of the best animations using 'chess' - my favourite!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kgg9Dn2ahlM

    — frodolk
  9. 9. May 25, 2009 2:57 pm Link

    if you've ever tried to write a film script by yourself, it is very much like playing chess against yourself…

    — eve shebang
  10. 10. May 28, 2009 10:11 am Link

    Thanks for quoted me! It's an honor for me that my little videos are cited here ;-) Greetings from Italy!

    — Lucio Etruscus
  11. 11. June 4, 2009 10:17 am Link

    Another great chess video on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0U-WnfPhWU

    — Catbus
  12. 12. August 24, 2009 2:51 pm Link

    I do not know if this is in Etruscus's collection, but a novella in which chess was absolutely central is Schachnovelle by Arnold Zweig, which has been translated into English as The Royal Game. This book was the basis of the 1960 movie Schachnovelle (German title), Brainwashed (English title), with Kurt Juergens and Claire Bloom.

    — Steve W
  13. 13. September 2, 2009 7:21 pm Link

    I really liked your article on how chess is used in the movies and also in advertisement. I love the game of chess, since the day my great grandmother taught me how to play. I have a blog on collectible chess set, if you would like to read it and give me your opinion on it. "collectiblechesssets.blogspot.com"
    thank you on agreat article

    — brian conn
  14. 14. September 7, 2009 9:26 pm Link

    I really liked your article on how chess is used in the movies and also in advertisement. I love the game of chess, since the day my great grandmother taught me how to play. I have a blog on collectible chess set, if you would like to read it and give me your opinion on it. "collectiblechesssets.blogspot.com"
    thank you on agreat article…

    — Asner

About Gambit

In its 1,500-year history, chess has imbedded itself in the world's culture and vocabulary. Ideas, terms and images from the game have long been used as proxies for intelligence and complexity. But chess is more than a diversion. Thousands worldwide play professionally or earn a living by teaching it to children. The Internet has transformed the game, making it easy for players anywhere to find an opponent day or night. Chess computers, originally developed to test the bounds of artificial intelligence, now play better than grandmasters. This blog will cover tournaments and events, trends and developments. Reader comments and questions will be more than welcome.

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