Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chess at the Movies, the Return


Position from the film "Uncovered"
Black to play and win (too easy).

I saw that there is an excellent review today by Taylor Kingston at ChessCafe of Bob Basalla's Chess at the Movies. I wrote a review of it myself back in November 2005 and then posted a second time with Basalla's reply. I am glad to see it still getting press since it is an excellent book. And I think Kingston's review finds just the right tone, emphasizing the value of this volume for anyone who cares about movies and about chess while mentioning some of the minor issues inevitably to be found in a work of such large scope.

I thought I'd use this opportunity to mention one film that Basalla only touches upon lightly (and that at second hand): UNCOVERED (1994), where the position above (one of the few Basalla has not diagrammed) occurs in a painting and serves an important plot point. I saw it a few months back on DVD and thought it not bad (3 out of 5 stars perhaps). The film stars the lovely Kate Beckinsale as an art restorer who accidentally uncovers an inscription on an old painting of two chessplayers. The inscription and the story of the painting suggest a tangled murder and property plot going back generations, which might enhance the value of the painting and may impact its current ownership through inheritance. Aided by her adoptive father, she recruits the help of a handsome young chess hustler to decipher the position depicted on the board. For some reason they assume it must be White to move (perhaps because one figure in the painting appears to have just captured a White piece), and the supposed master says that White must play the insipid 1.Ra5?? (see diagram above, after White's move), when Black executes his threat of 1...g4+ (of course) and the Black Queen goes on a rampage, picking up White pieces left and right. In the film, each capture by the Queen predicts a murder and the chess hustler's analysis of the position becomes predictive of who will next fall victim to the mysterious killer.

As a student of gothic and mystery conventions (and of the typical inheritance plot at the heart of most gothic tales), I found UNCOVERED rather amusing if frequently disappointing. The film might be described as "The DaVinci Code" meets "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and the conflicting mix of gothic and comic at its heart seemed a structural problem to me. It has a frequently light tone and revolves around the lives of four people who form something of a constructed family (as frequently occurs in European comedies), and there is quite a bit of romance in the film (whose title may also refer to Ms. Beckinsale's frequent state of undress). But the dark undercurrents of the gothic property dispute and the murder-mystery story-line keep intruding until we get the ultimate confusion of the two at the film's climax when the seemingly friendly murderer is revealed.

I thought that the basic plot of the film was intriguing, though, and it made me interested in the novel The Flanders Panel upon which it is based (and which has been frequently recommended by a friend). As it is usually the case, I predict that the book will be better....


Blogger DreadPirateJosh said...

Haha, I was reading this review thinking, "This is a rip off of The Flanders Panel."

Anyway, if you want another opinion of the book:
The Flanders Panel is okay, I've read two books by him and they are both simliar in style. But don't expect a fast paced novel, its more of a well crafted plodding novel. (I do not mean to be negative with "plodding").

May I recommend _Shadow without a Name_ by Ignacio Padilla. Its shorter, involves chess (although admittedly a lot less than Flanders Panel) but, in my opinion, its more entertaining. (especially since I assume you watched the end of Uncovered, so that will take away from the book a little)

(I'm sure you've heard about The Eight, so I'll end by saying that I didn't think to much of the Eight, not like some of the reviews I've read, but it was okay)

Wed May 31, 02:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Michael Goeller said...

Thanks for the mini-review of The Flanders Panel. I should probably say more at some point about chess novels since I've read quite a few. Frankly, though, I have not been impressed by anything since Nabokov's "The Defense" (made into the unlikable film, "The Luzhin Defense," as you must know...) Films have the advantage of being shorter, so if you find you are not liking it you generally have not wasted as much time....

I have not heard of "Shadow without a Name" and will have to look into it. Thanks. Any film version of that one...? :-)

Wed May 31, 03:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger DreadPirateJosh said...

I know from your blog that you read The Chest Artist, I really enjoyed that, the chapters devoted to "chess history" could've been taken out, but that's just me.

No film version of Shadow Without A Name that I know of, haha. I take it you didn't like The Eight? (I can wait for the answer until your Chess Books post, I'm patient)

The Luzhin Defense was horrible so I never bothered to look into the book.. the book is good?

Wed May 31, 04:26:00 PM EDT  

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