Monday, January 11, 2016

Chess Goes to the Movies: The Hateful Eight

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Not the most original way to begin, I grant you, but as far as chess going to the movies is concerned, that’s exactly how things were at the fag end of 2015.

The telly execs of our times justify not putting our game on the box on the grounds that nobody cares, and yet chess continues to be part of cinema’s go-to imagery. The 64 squares made a cameo appearance in three of the most popular films of the last couple of months alone. That’s the good part. The downside is that two of the three films weren’t tremendously good and two of the three chess scenes - a different two - were less than thrilling.

First up we had Spectre, the disappointing James Bond film that was at least three-quarters of an hour too long. Readers who were with us in the summer may recall that I consider most films to be outstaying their welcome when they get to the 100-110 minute mark and two hours is the absolute top whack. Spectre rolled in at a snore inducing two hours 30 minutes but, hey ho, at least it had a chess scene, right?

What we got was Mr B pitching up at some mountain shack and suggesting that he and the occupant sit down to have a chat. This they proceed to do although, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, they have their chinwag sitting on opposite sides of a dusty old chess board. A chess scene? In a visual sense it was, I suppose, but not one with a sliver of meaning.

Next up was Bridge of Spies, the most recent Tom Hanks vehicle. There’s not a lot to detain us here except the pay-attention-or-you’ll-miss-it appearance of chess about halfway through. Look closely and during one of Forest Gump's visits to Mark Rylance in prison you’ll see a pair of inmates pushing pawns in the background.

Finally there was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I liked this film a lot. Not the least of the reasons why was that it was respectful of the source material. For our purposes let’s consider Finn finding himself at a round chequered table on the Millennium Falcon and accidentally switching on the hologram chess game that R2D2 and Chewbacca were playing in the original. Like the original scene it’s not a big plot point. Not a big deal at all, in fact. It was, however, another pleasing little bit of business that showed that the makers of The Force Awakens cared about their history.

So much for last year. What of 2016?

For a start* last Friday saw the release of Tarantino’s** latest, The Hateful Eight. It stars Kurt Russell a man who can boast a previous CGttM appearance in The Thing, a film which Quentters has cited as a creative influence - and it features chess too.

Sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? The trouble is it also has a running time of over three hours. Even the ’short’ version is two and three-quarter hours long. That’s are-you-having-a-laugh? territory even by Tarantino’s bloated self-indulgent standards. It’s certainly I’m-taking-a-packed-lunch-and-maybe-even-a-sleeping-bag by mine.

Ah well. At least there’s chess in it. Best of times, worst of times and all that.

* Or possibly not. A few days before The Hateful Eight I saw Joy. Perhaps I was hallucinating, but I think that when Jennifer Lawrence arrives at QVC you can see giant chess pieces being packed into a box in the background during one scene.

** In Quentin’s previous appearance on the blog - The Decline of the "The Decline of English Chess" Article -  he claimed that Django Unchained started people talking about Slavery - you know, just like Stephen Moss started people talking about the Decline of English Chess.

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