When I was choosing my Hot Docs ‘11 screenings, I hadn’t planned to see it but I unexpectedly ended up at a screening of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop thanks to a friend snagging tickets to the sold-out show.
Too bad it’s about one year too late for this film. I mean, does anybody still care?
The film was shot during O’Brien’s 30-city “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” last spring and summer. I think O’Brien’s a funny dude, so I enjoyed that aspect of it, but I really could’ve lived without all the concert footage. But that may be more the fault of my dislike of musical comedy and “funny” songs than the fault of the film (although the person I went to the film with agreed with me on this point). And, of course, the concert was the setting of the film. The offstage footage was more interesting to me and I liked that he allowed himself to be shown behaving like a prima donna sometimes–taking out on his team his anger over the tragedy of his situation. There is a particularly awkward sequence where he belittles a former-”Late Night” actor, Jack McBrayer, which would’ve made me squirm in my seat if there wasn’t that kernel of doubt about whether or not McBrayer was playing along… I still dunno if he was. What was eye-opening was how hard the guy pushes himself. He really can not stop. He says “no” to practically no request–no matter how ridiculous. For example, he is invited to perform at Bonnaroo and then asked to introduce all the other acts, as well; he (rightfully) kvetches about it to the camera and anyone else who’ll listen but does it, anyway, and by the time he takes the stage for his own performance, he’s exhausted.
The film isn’t festival calibre–surely only included at Hot Docs for the marquee value of O’Brien’s name–feeling like not much more than a television special, but it is fun if you like his brand of humour. If you don’t mind that whole sulk about being paid millions to leave his job, look for it on VOD.
I don’t know a damned thing about chess, but that didn’t matter when I sat down to watch Bobby Fischer Against the World. I knew who he was and I knew that he had a reputation as a bit of a, er, nutter, but I had forgotten how much of a big deal his 1972 battle with Soviet chess star Boris Spassky was when they met in Iceland in a 21-game match to determine the World Chess Championship. It was given high profile coverage and featured on the nightly newscasts as well as the sportscasts. The sportscasts. This match is at the heart of the film–perhaps because his whole life had been building towards it and because his whole life went kerflooey after it. This part of the story–the psychological warfare that Fischer employed against Spassky–is told well in the film. Even if you know the outcome, you can’t help but sit at the edge of your seat as the story–and match–is played out.
But, in the end, the film offers little insight into the rise and fall of Bobby Fischer. He is portrayed as distant, self-absorbed, and determined from childhood–a self-taught genius when it came to chess–and ended up a scraggly-bearded anti-Semitic and anti-American loon, exiled from his homeland. I’m not a doctor (but I played one on TV), but it seems pretty obvious that the guy had some kind of mental illness, and that subject is like the proverbial elephant sitting, undiscussed, in the room. It’s an interesting and, I think, important part of Fischer’s story, but it remains untold in this film.