25 November 2020

Chess

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit"

On Monday night, Shirley and I finished watching the seventh and last episode of "The Queen's Gambit" on Netflix. We thoroughly enjoyed the series having been led to it by a number of people including Sue in rural Lincolnshire and Mary in northern Florida.

The drama follows the stellar career of an American chess genius called Beth Harmon. Played brilliantly by Anya Taylor-Joy, Harmon is a troubled soul who grew up in an orphanage and developed addictions which included an all-consuming obsession with chess.

I will refrain from  providing any more details of the plot as I would not wish to spoil your viewing experience if you have not yet seen "The Queen's Gambit".

What I will say is that as well as being gripped by the story which is based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, I was also entranced by the appearance of the drama. There was an inventive quirkiness about it all and some of the cinematography was very clever. I loved the way that Beth Harmon walked - like a cat gliding along but aware of everything around her. At times the colouration added subtly to the 1950's/60's feel of the settings.

Was it based on the life of a real person? I researched this via everyone's best friend - Mr Google. He told me - no, not really - but the writer once said that there is a lot of Bobby Fischer in Beth Harmon. Fischer (1943-2008) was also a child chess prodigy who went on to beat the Russians at their own game. Like Harmon, Fischer was similarly reluctant to dance to anybody else's fiddle and outside the precincts of chess was also adept at putting his big foot in things.

34 comments:

  1. I loved that series -- thought it was very well done. I was especially impressed with how they created whole mid-century cityscapes to fit the time period -- like the shots of the Las Vegas strip. I guess it was CGI, but however they did it, it was fantastic. Coincidentally, someone donated a copy of the book to our library, so now we have that available as well. I thought the actress who played the mother did a great job.

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    1. I loved the mother's piano playing and how it segued in to the drama's soundtrack. I know what you mean about the appearance of Las Vegas. Excellent.

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  2. My sister and I have become Netflixers only a few months ago, and while I have only seen this series advertised, my sister has already watched it and recommends it, too. Maybe I should give it a go after I have finished watching the latest series of The Crown.

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    1. I like that word Netflixer. I have never seen any of "The Crown" and have no intentions of watching even a moment of it.

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    2. I thought like you, YP. Plus, what's the Royal family to me? Then I gave it a go (despite myself). It's excellent. From Episode One of Series One to the end of Series Four I was spell bound. Not least because so much not that long ago history being brought back to mind. I particularly like the respective Prime Ministers' audiences with the Queen. And then there is the mouse ...

      U

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    3. I just don't find the subject matter interesting. For me it would be like watching a film about quantum mechanics or the life of Sir Alec Douglas-Hume.

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  3. I have tried applying lots of eyeliner but I still haven't succeeded in winning a game against Paul. But I do resign with style now, knocking my king to the board with a flourish.

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    1. Perhaps Paul is on mind-altering drugs like Harmon. Check the bathroom cabinet!

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  4. Yes, the Queen's Gambit is amazing. Binge watched (as not to lose momentum) the whole seven hours or so over two nights. Can't say I bought into the drug angle of the story line. But then, what do I know? The simultaneous games, going from table to table? I bow in reverence. It is mind blowing. Alas, so often the very genius that is gifted to some, and considered a blessing, may yet turn out a curse.

    Her demeanour reminded me of Poker players. You know the ones whose faces don't give away anything. Blank canvas (smoke screens help to disguise whether your eyes' pupils are enlarged or not), regardless of whether they hold the Ace of Spades (the high ranking Death Card) or are on the slope to financial extinction. I admire that. Not least because I can't count the times I have been told that I'd be the world's worst Poker player ever, considering that my face is, apparently, an open book displaying exactly what I feel - not least JOY. Still, my friends, don't forget The DOUBLE Bluff! HA! I might not flatten your King yet beat you to the Casino.

    The film's hero (for me), YP? Mr Shaibel (the caretaker). We all should have a Shaibel or two in our lives.

    U

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    1. That was a lovely moment when Beth returned to the cellar and discovered all the newspaper cuttings that Mr Shaibel kept on a noticeboard. I felt the weight of her regret at that moment - knowing that she ought to have come back to him when he was still alive as a gesture of her undying gratitude.

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    2. Nicely said, Yorky.
      Can't remember this from the book, but I'm so getting the DVD.

      I always hoped Russell Crowe would do Raymond Chandler's *High Window*.
      I see a kind old man who plays chess with Chandler's hero, Marlowe.
      In the movie the old man dies, but when Marlowe returns to his lonely apartment, after having solved the case, the old guy is waiting for him.
      With the chess board set up.
      *You and me and Capablanca.*
      The novel closes with words to that effect, Marlowe playing chess by himself.

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  5. Sounds perfect for lockdown viewing, thanks for the tip.

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  6. Really glad you liked it. I read somewhere online that there was a woman chess champ in Cuba in the twenties, I think, but at that time women were not allowed to play with men and so she completely fell under the bus. Sometimes when I think of all of the women artists and musicians and mathematicians and scientists who were never allowed to work the way men always have been, I grieve at the vast waste of genius due to what someone has or does not have in the way of genitalia.

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    1. You are right Ms Moon - so much lost talent.

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  7. I'm hearing an awful lot about this movie, and every reviewer thinks it's great. I'll have to add it to my winter watching list.

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  8. I was pleased to read this week in Student Notices that our new chess coach would be a female teacher.

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    1. I bet she has watched "The Queen's Gambit".

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  9. We really enjoyed The Queen's Gambit, too! I loved the period clothing, cars, furniture, etc.

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    1. Yes - the design of the film was delightful wasn't it?

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  10. I shall purchase this when the DVD is released: I remember a guy saying, *You play chess as badly as I have ever seen, kiddo. But steal this book The Queen's Gambit, ya dumb ass.*

    It must have been Fats Eddie (Jackie Gleason) from film of The Hustler, which Walter Tevis wrote before he wrote The Queen's Gambit and The Man Who Fell to Earth. One of my uncles grew to look like Jackie Gleason with every passing year.

    Ursula's poker player is a study in cunning. Bobby Fischer was enigmatic, and didn't end so well. Bridge players need a good memory. Chess is something else, like quantum physics. A novel about the woman who invented chess would be a good idea.

    I remember how little Beth is forbidden to play the game, and she lies in bed at night, seeing the bedroom ceiling as one big chess board.

    There's a Tevis story about a man who accidentally rings his own number from outside. And hears his own self speaking, not a recorded answerphone. That is like the doppelganger. Death. The King of Terrors. Even Fats Eddie can't stare through the eyes of the dark angel.

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    1. Jackie Gleason played Minnesota Fats: I don't know where Fats Eddie came from.

      Gleason once rang up his ex-wife and told her that President Kennedy asked him to come down with him and see the crashed flying saucer in Roswell. After Gleason's death his wife said she didn't know if he was kidding or not.

      Watch Gleason on Johnny Carson (YouTube). His daughter Linda married Jason Miller, who played the Jesuit priest in The Exorcist, and died prematurely like Walter Tevis.

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    2. Shame Tevis died so young. It was the cigarettes that did it. Until you mentioned it, I never knew that he wrote "The Man Who Fell to Earth". He probably had a lot more left to give.

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    3. Cigarettes as addiction is the theme of Italo Svevo's *Confessions of Zeno*:
      A novel about happiness and marriage, the hero smokes untipped cigarettes with the double-headed eagle of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the paper.

      Alan Sillitoe wrote an essay on smoking that reminded me foolishly of its pleasures: it was reprinted in his book, A Flight of Arrows.

      Sinatra's son said smoking ruined his father's eyes so that he could no longer read the cue board. Smoking killed Bogart, Cooper, Damon Andrews, Robert Crawford not to mention some of my wonderful uncles.

      Robert Goulet whom Sinatra admired smoked heavily and died of pulmonary fibrosis: Watch Goulet sing If I Loved You from Carousel (YouTube) to hear his lyric baritone. A very decent man, (French Canadian but born in USA) they dimmed the lights in Vegas at his passing.
      Goulet sent himself up in a cameo in the movie Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster.

      Rod Serline who wrote The Twilight Zone smoked three packs a day and it killed him swiftly. You can see his 1956 film The Pattern with Van Heflin, Ed Begley, Beatrice Straight and the chilling Everett Sloane. YouTube. Pizza Movies.

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    4. Rod SERLING not Serline.
      See him talk to Groucho Marx on YouTube.
      Like Walter Tevis he had a lot more left to give.

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  11. Everyone is recommending this show! It does sound quite good and I have already put it on my watch list but have not had time to start it yet. Thanks for the good review YP!

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    1. Get your husband to watch it with you Bonnie.

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  12. I started watching a few weeks ago. I was especially impressed with the way she learnt chess looking upwards on an imaginary chess board, and the pieces moving around. Agree with you the cinematography is good and the colours striking at times and frightening cool and blue when needed. I just wish I know how to play chess, will appreciate the movie even more.

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  14. Haven't seen the show yet but would like to. I'm not a fan of chess. I'm not one of those people who can see moves ahead of time, or plan ahead. The big guy is, so it's not any fun playing with him. Sometimes he's too smart for his good. He's a very smart man, scary smart and gets so frustrated with people who can't think like him, including me sometimes. His intelligence is a hinderance for him sometimes, it must be lonely too I think. I seem to have gotten off topic. Sorry.

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