Monday, February 06, 2006

Chess in the Movies, Part Two

Hat tip to The Closet Grandmaster for pointing us to an amusing chess movie trivia article in today's Rocky Mountain News ("Your move: match your chess, movie knowledge"). The article reminded me of my correspondence with Chess in the Movies author Bob Basalla of a few weeks back. You may remember that I reviewed Basalla's wonderful book shortly after Thanksgiving (when you are likely thinking about holiday gifts). I remembered it as an overall positive review (certainly with a "buy" recommendation attached), but upon re-reading it does come across as more negative than I had intended. And when I read it again, thinking now of Mr. Basalla reading it too, I feel like the worst sort of critic. Hey, this guy did an amazing amount of work and all I can do is criticize? (Same goes for Edward Winter, whose fact-faulting review preceded mine).

Mr. Basalla wrote to address some of my specific points, and I told him I'd print his remarks. I have to admit I was in error in a few places, especially in suggesting he should see more of these films himself (turns out he had seen the vast majority). Before I quote at length from our e-mail exchange, let me just say that his book is a unique and wonderful labor of love that deserves readers. And if you are into chess and the movies, this is certainly a must-have book (as I said before).... Here is what he writes:


Dear Mr. Goeller,

Thank you for reviewing Chess in the Movies on the Kenilworth Chess Club website. As the author of said tome I would like to make some comments. It is repeatedly said in the review that I admitted that I had not seen most of the movies listed in the book. That is incorrect. On the top of page 405 in a stat sheet listing I reveal that I had actually directly seen 82% of the films in the book! That's first hand knowledge, not second. And as I explained in the introduction, I made a deliberate decision not to reference where I got every last snippet of information, fearing that the resulting book would be so clogged with notes as to be unreadable,
thus ruining my attempt to entertain the reader. Any movie where I secured significant info from one source I mentioned it in the review. ... In the end this was just one guy in Ohio writing a virtual encyclopedia by himself. It may not be perfect but I don't think I can be accused of being lazy. And as you noted, my book may stimulate additional interest and writings on the topic of cinematic chess, and I hope I played a constructive role in opening up the discussion. If so, one major goal of the project is achieved. Thank you, and have fun with Chess in the Movies!

Bob Basalla, author of Chess in the Movies

Dear Bob --
Thanks for the note. Rereading my review, I see that it comes off as a bit negative, which I did not intend. My ciriticism was framed as things you can correct for the second edition! I certainly think it was a superhuman effort on your part and one that readers would enjoy and should support. I also missed your stat sheet reference. I merely got the impression that you had not seen many films based on some of the reviews themselves. Yes, I don't think you can be accused of "being lazy." A big book like that is a superhuman effort! ...

Best wishes,

Dear Michael,

Thanks for responding promptly to my response. At some point I had to stop researching and writing and have the book published. There are always new good chess movies coming out on the horizon that will not appear (Stay, Autumn 2005, and Knights of the South Bronx, A & E cable movie, December 2005 come immediately to mind), and more will arrive each year afterward. Books remain static snap shots of a point in time.

The publishing process lasted (even though of a "vanity" variety) from 11/04 to Labor Day weekend '05. Some last minute items were added in to keep it more current but there was no way to do wholesale additions and changes or it would never get done. Fish or cut bait, you know? And obviously I knew there would be some older good ones that would escape my attention (I missed The Great Escape, for example. Can you believe it?) Much of the (minor actually) criticism ofthe book comes via omissions that people thought I should have found. Many of these were from Europe, but when the film never makes US shores, and reviews on the Internet do not mention the chess moment, how in heaven's name was I to find them? [Edward] Winter found a few actual factual mistakes, but so far those have been few. Remember, I had to vett and proof this monster volume practically alone, and if you've ever tried to proof your own writings you know what a nightmare that can be. So when I read your review repeatedly calling me on not bothering to see most of these movies directlyI felt I had to correct the mistaken impression. I hope I did so in a not too antagonistic manner.

I consider Chess in the Movies a first approximation on the subject. If the response is good, maybe I will come out with a corrected and expanded second edition some years hence. Unless I almost sell out the books I have this is a not for profit enterprise--good thing I have a gig as a full time dentist! Perhaps a website is also in the future if I can get one of my computer adept friends (I, alas, am not, particularly) to help me.

One minor secret I'll reveal: Section 15 of the index, entitled Rumor Mill, lists movies that may contain chess. In actuality they all do, they just didn't come in soon enough for me to write them in! Hope this helps you see where I'm coming from. And to answer your other question, yes, if you'd like you may reprint all or part of my response on your blog, and any of the above message you deem worthy of note as well.


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