We have encountered Marcel Duchamp before on this blog, seated on a roof somewhere in Paris, playing chess with Man Ray. Today, we are dealing with him again. This time, he is director of a film, together with Hans Richter1 and Jean Cocteau. The title of the film, 8×8: A chess sonata in 8 movements, suggests that there will be a lot of chess. This is partly a false promise, but there’s still enough to warrant a blog post. For example, there is the following strange scene:
I could describe the plot, but — actually, I probably couldn’t. It’s one of those experimental affairs, you see, that don’t really have a plot. Instead, it relies on pareidolia to make people think there’s something in it. According to wikipedia, Hans Richter called it “part Freud, part Lewis Carroll”, but that’s a huge insult to the latter and unearned acclaim to the former.
In the very beginning of the film, even before the credit sequence, we are treated to a beautiful overhead shot of a chess board, only slightly soiled by the drone of a narrator:2
We see white play Qc2 and we see black answer with Nc6. Meanwhile, the narrator is going on:
Narrator: The way each piece may be moved is approved by tradition, already obscure in the East before the game began to be played for a thousand years in the west.
Well, that’s just plain bollocks. We have little choice but to assume that they’re talking about chess, but the rules of chess have changed considerably since the game was introduced in Europe. Most conspicuously, the queen’s powers were greatly expanded. For example, Qc2 would not have been possible back then. But all this is just a distraction. While this nonsense is getting all the attention, the white king has magically moved to h1, his queen to b4, his bishop to b1 and black’s knight is back on e7.
This is obviously crappy continuity, but as it is an Art film with a big A, they can always claim that it is ironic.
Realism: 4/5 This one is a little hard to judge. There is not really any piece which is on an illogical square, but there seems to be little cohesion. What we see is probably the result of a tactical struggle.
Probable winner: White has by far the best chances, although Qc2 didn’t help him; the simple Qx7 would have been far better.
1. [Unfortunately, that’s not the director who premiered a.o. Brahms’ third symphony and Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.]↩
2. [Apart from that drone, you can get the same effect here.]↩