Chess In The Movies

Bob Basalla

Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
TPI Wonderworks (2005)
422 pages (oversized paperback)
Jeremy Silman

Chess players always seem to get excited when they notice a chessboard in a TV show or movie. Rhapsody sets in when a major scene is devoted to chess. Who could ever forget the classic chess scenes in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, THE SEVENTH SEAL, and HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE?

Some movies, though, go far beyond mere scenes. Perhaps the two greatest examples of this are CHESS FEVER and BRAINWASHED, where chess played a major part from beginning to end. However, I still believe that the greatest merger of celluloid and chess occurred in the bizarre science fiction series LEXX, in an episode called THE GAME.

I suppose everyone has his or her top chess/movie moments but now, for the first time, a book (CHESS IN THE MOVIES) has appeared chronicling over 2,000 movies that have some mention of our favorite game/addiction. Here are two paragraphs from the authors opening remarks:

“The purposes of this book are threefold. The first is to inform the chess public of the amazingly widespread and often symbolic use of chess in films the world over. The second is to chronicle these findings about the who, what, when, where and why of film references to chess all in one place, the first time such easy reference to so many chess movies has been afforded. And the third purpose of this tome, not inferior in any way to the previous two, is to unabashedly entertain the reader. I want you to enjoy finding out about these movies at least as much as I did writing about them.”

“When reviewing the chess scenes in these films, my default mode position was to point out possible meaning and symbolic content that occur to me, even at the risk of overanalyzation. It is amazing how many “pointless” chess moments have unintended, almost subliminal contexts when viewed in this way.”

Aside from telling us about the move in question (some films only warrant a paragraph, others get several), Mr. Basalla also lets us know if the position is legal, if the board was set up correctly (it’s amazing how often they get it wrong!), and if the moves played make any sense at all. Many of the movies he lists are complete garbage, and only make it into the book because a chessboard was found sitting somewhere. Others are important illustrations of how chess often infiltrates all aspects of real life.

Being a maniacal collector of interesting reference books on a myriad of subjects, I’m very happy to have CHESS IN THE MOVIES in my collection. If you are a chess fan and also love movies, then you’ll want to own this book. I should add that it would make a great Christmas or birthday gift for the chess lover in your family.