dimanche 20 janvier 2008

Cruising and Bobby Fischer

In a world where attitudes have dramatically changed since the AIDS epidemic appeared in the early 80s, but where HIV contamination among young gays as well as other 'sexually transmitted infections' ("New Bacteria Strain Is Striking Gay Men", The New York Times, January 15th 2008) are on the rise, it is moving to watch Cruising, the 1980 controversial film with Al Pacino.
The movie photography and soundtrack have been beautifully remastered in the new DVD released in September 2007. No additional footage is included but "some visual transitions which were not in the original film were added," says William Friedkin the director, "and the scenes in the leather bar are much more vivid than they were made to appear in the original theatrical release." The DVD also includes several interviews which provide interesting viewpoints and an historical perspective.
Besides being a murder mystery,
Cruising is a fascinating film. It shows a very realistic image of what was part of the gay life in New York City in the 70s and 80s, after Stonewall and before AIDS. Shooting took place in real leather gay bars of the West Village, with regular patrons, asked to do whatever they usually did... Many years later, William Friedkin says: "There is no other film that I ever saw that is like that. Whether you like it or hate it, it's very unconventional and it's original, it does not owe itself to anything. It's an unsettling experience. I wanted to portray the idea that the murders were unsolved, a metaphor for so much that happens in our life, the mystery of fate. When you look at someone, do you really know who they are?" "Do you know who I am?" seems to ask Al Pacino in the last sequence of the movie, as he looks at the camera, after his ordeal as an undercover cop investigating the serial murders in the leather S&M gay community.

On a more sad tone, Bobby Fischer died on Thursday in Iceland at 64. Once again he made the front page of the major newspapers worldwide. In
Le Monde: La mort de Bobby Fischer, génie paranoïaque des échecs. In the Financial Times: Bobby Fischer, chess genius and estranged American, dies in isolation, with a picture of the former World Champion in 2005, after his return to Iceland, with long white beard and hair. Coincidentally the FT also featured in the same issue an interview with Anand, the current Chess World Champion. But the best coverage was in the New York Times: Bobby Fischer, Troubled Genius of Chess, Is Dead, with a beautiful picture of Fischer in 1971, in front of a chessboard, followed by a full page of his biography and an interesting appraisal by Edward Rothstein, a music critic, currently the cultural critic-at-large for the NYT: "Bobby Fischer's instability was linked in some ways to the nature of chess." Not only was Fischer one of the best chess player ever, but he also has a very significant influence on the game, demanding more prize money for World Championships, suggesting a new time control which is now widely used, among other things.
It reminds me of the foreword of
Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, the book Fischer published in 1966, when he was 22 years old. He wrote something that I find very touching: "Chess games are being played everywhere - on benches and tables in the park, at Chess clubs, YMCA's, hich schools, colleges, army posts, prisons. Even by mail. You shouldn't have any trouble in getting a game. l certainly hope that my book will help everyone to enjoy this wonderful game."