Economists and forward-thinkers are all about “creative disruption” as a means to move our lackluster global economy forward. It’s the idea that innovation is the answer, the best way to revitalize our moribund industries. If Hollywood is doomed, recycling itself into career suicide with its incessant fixation on familiar forms and conventions (i.e. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “The Avengers,” etc), then the only way out of this mess is to focus on the new, the novel and the daring, whether that’s Christopher Nolan (love him or hate him, at least he’s experimenting with form) or at the other end of the spectrum, Andrew Bujalski, whose latest film “Computer Chess” goes back in time to boldly go forward where no film has gone before.
I don’t think I even fully enjoyed “Computer Chess” for extended stretches while watching it for the first time, but in retrospect, it’s emerged in my mind as one of my most memorable viewing experiences of the last year. In my wrap-up of the best and worst of Sundance 2013, I wrote that there were other films that I liked more. But six months later, it’s the weird, lovable, artisanal, retrograde “Computer Chess” that I remember most and perhaps, even the most fondly. Last week, I interviewed Bujalski for Filmmaker Magazine, and our conversation only further deepened my appreciation for the film. The movie’s playful tensions between control and chaos seemed embodied in Bujalski’s filmmaking practices as well, as when he told me, “Filmmaking is always a collaboration between you imposing your will and
something else imposing its will that you have to accept and end with.”
I have no idea how many people will pay to see “Computer Chess,” but I have a feeling it will be a fairly small number in theatrical release, and live a long and healthy life as a cult item on DVD and VOD.
But I do know that the film represents the kind of daring vision that independent filmmakers should aspire to. The fact that Bujalski has stuck to his aesthetic guns and made such an uncompromising and strange movie is not only laudable, but kind of miraculous given the pressures on indie filmmakers to tackle larger and larger budgets. A film career is supposed to go something like this: After making one or two indie calling cards, agents take notice and soon HBO or Hollywood comes calling (which still happens today, see Lena Dunham, Duplass Brothers), and in between bigger projects you get to play on littler labors of love. But Bujalski is like Soderbergh without “Out of Sight,” or even “sex, lies, and videotape.” He’s made his “Schizopolis” and who knows what he’ll do next. He’d like to sell out, as he told me, but if he can’t, it’s back to the drawing board. And I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.