The Queen’s Gambit

I thought it was real.

I know, I know, that’s ridiculous, but otherwise why make a movie about a female chess prodigy with such a harrowed background?

I’ve got no time for chess.

We all started with checkers, had no idea what the back of the board was all about until the backgammon craze of the mid-seventies, but that’s seemed to die out.

But chess has always remained.

It was something you learned to play at maybe ten, give or take a year or two. You were taught the rules, you played a few times to remember them, and either you were hooked or you were not.

I was not. I don’t have the patience for it.

Which made me think what I do have the patience for… I guess we all have our interests, playing chess is not one of mine.

But I did follow it. Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky was a big deal back in ’72, and this was when people still aligned Fischer with his Jewishness, which he ended up renouncing, and more.

But there were so many draws.

And unlike in the film, major chess matches were so long and boring, the time between moves, ugh.

But then we had Garry Kasparov, the best ex-chess champion, standing up for truth, justice and what we used to call the American Way, in Russia…like Tom Petty, he won’t back down.

But was I paying attention to chess in the mid to late sixties?

No. I thought maybe there was a female champion. It was possible. And watching the series I figured she O.D.’ed, or died in a car crash or something, and that’s why I never heard of her.

But in the final credits I read “The Queen’s Gambit” was based on a novel, so that scotched my belief, and also made me re-evaluate the series a bit, but I did enjoy it, it did maintain my attention, I did not find myself talking through it, I felt like I went down the rabbit hole into someone else’s story, and in an era where we’re all thinking about ourselves and our futures, it was a good respite.

It was the cinematography. Honestly, those days were not really that good. And if you lived through them, it’s hard to see them as period nostalgia. It’s one thing to put the fifties in a box, but the sixties were an explosive time when anything went.

So there were a few clinkers, like the push-button phone. I don’t know anybody who had one of those in the sixties. But one must say the cars were fantastic, they did their best to get that right.

So, the pills/the tranquilizers. Hmm… I know…

Oh, here’s the spoiler alert. If you’re gonna watch the series and haven’t yet, stop reading here. Or continue if you want this to be like a typical film/TV review, where they tell you most of what happens, where the trailer hits all the high points. Not that I’m going to be exhaustive, but I do want to discuss some of the plot points.

Like the aforementioned pills. How did she keep getting them in Kentucky, had she really bought that many in Mexico? So, they gave her insight and their only need was as a plot device to illustrate at the end she didn’t need them?

There were so many significant elements that were brushed over, but I thought this was a biopic and it was permitted, but since it was fiction, I felt we needed a bit more explaining.

Like Mr. Wheatley. Exactly why did he leave Alma? Was there another woman or not?

And what exactly was up with Beth’s mother and father, were they ever together, was he two-timing his wife or..?

And then the twist that the mother had been rich?

These were all significant points, but they were not fleshed out.

Never mind Townes and the homosexuality… There were so many plot points, maybe some could have been excised or the series could have been longer to make what happened more believable.

And exactly why was Beth so strange? So nonverbal at times? And what was her view on sex, etc.

Maybe the series hewed too closely to the book, they tried to cram too much into it.

But despite all the above, I very much enjoyed “The Queen’s Gambit,” and I recommend it.

Maybe because there are so many lessons, maybe because it has you questioning your own upbringing and choices.

Like do you obey authority. This was a big issue in the mid to late sixties, questioning authority. Which kind of has me wondering about the Trump folk, he says it, they believe it, why? I certainly don’t accept and believe everything out of Biden’s mouth, and it has nothing to do with the man, just that you’ve got to keep all politicians at a distance.

And the music! When the TV showed “Hullabaloo” and there were the Vogues, singing “You’re the One”… They were just a brief moment of time on the radio, I never really thought I liked that track, but I loved hearing it in this series. It made me go to Wikipedia, to look the act up. They predated the Beatles, they were a vocal group when that was still a thing. And Drew Carey resuscitated “Five O’Clock World,” but still one cannot explain how great it was to hear that track on the radio.

Back when you sang along.

And “Along Comes Mary,” with the drug reference front and center!

When that track came out, we thought the Association was a cutting edge group testing limits. Little did we know they’d ultimately be seen as a lightweight pop act, maybe unjustifiably. But that intro, it encapsulates the west coast, paisley, sky’s the limit ethos. And it’s funny with these cuts how they bring back a specific listening experience, in this case driving with my mother and sister to visit my mom’s parents in Massachusetts.

And “Classical Gas”…

At first I thought it was a soundalike, but when I realized it was the real thing, I smiled. We pooh-poohed some instrumentals, but we always liked “Classical Gas,” and Mason Williams worked on the “Smothers Brothers” show, back when the talent tested the limits of the execs and that was a big thing because there were only three channels.

And being scorned in high school, wanting to fit in and ultimately realizing you don’t want to.

And intelligence/genius coming with a cost. Beth ultimately fit in nowhere, except with her chess peers, who were all damaged in their own way. Chess players are depicted in this series like poker players, who knew you could make such a good living, then again maybe it was just the best who cashed in.

And Beltik losing his passion for the game. This’ll surprise you. Or surprise those around you. You do something every day for years and then you don’t want to do it anymore, possibly forever. Sure, it’s legendary with swimmers, talk about a thankless, isolationist sport, but even with high profile endeavors, they consume your life and then you realize you’ve got no life. Even worse, you find out nothing can replace your old passion.

And is ordinary life better? Is it more fulfilling to be surrounded by coworkers at a supermarket than to be lionized, yet alone.

And you’ve got rock star behavior. People at home are salivating for recognition, and Beth punts on “The Tonight Show.” These geniuses are different from us. Sure, we’d cope if we had their success, but we don’t.

But the feel, that was the genius element!

It really felt like the pre-internet sixties, without even answering machines. If you weren’t home when someone called, you missed it. If you regretted something you said or did and wanted to call the other person immediately on their smartphone, you could not, you just sat at home alone, or paced the floor with your thoughts.

And travel was exotic and most people could not afford it.

And it’s your relationships that will get you through, you’re nowhere without them.

And, as great as you think you are, you can’t make it without the help of others.

And some of us are just destined to live unfulfilling lives. You grow up with such hopes, and then you have a few defeats and you just can’t get the gumption up anymore, no one is paying attention, you’re already over the hill. After high school it’s up to you to make something of yourself.

And Jolene did. But the squash was a bit much. That was truly an elite sport back then. Really, still is.

So, you’re engrossed with the images and the story and this is not the world you want Trump to bring us back to, but you are entranced by the innocence, thinking back to what you were doing at the time.

Yes, I was alive and conscious in ’66. Even though watching this series that seems amazing. I had parents, but there were limits, I had hopes and desires, I had to keep them to myself for fear of them being quashed. Hell, I think I had to move to California before I could truly be myself, truly be free. Then again, today everybody is so intertwined you cannot escape judgment unless you refrain from going online, which is an impossibility, even doctors text appointments these days.

So, we’ve got an educational system that wants to drain your creativity, make you conform. Money is the holy grail. Who you are, your individual choices, are pooh-poohed. Either you’re a winner trying to keep the others down, or you’re a resentful member of the underclass, and the twain shall not meet, whereas they did in the sixties. But, watching this series it made me think of parents who told us they walked six miles through the snow to school. We had it harder back then. Having a car to drive yourself to school was a rarity, now it’s de rigueur, youngsters cannot understand how we lived, even though it seemed so present, so up to date back in the sixties.

And sure, “The Queen’s Gambit” is about the triumph of women.

Then again, Alma is suppressed, and ends up being enveloped by alcohol.

And realizing you’re just not good enough, like Benny, that’s a hard thing to swallow.

So, “The Queen’s Gambit” takes you on a journey, removes you from everyday life, and that’s enough, but there’s so much more.

There are the vagaries of life, how stuff happens that you cannot anticipate, that deliver roadblocks, and also, occasionally opportunities. And how one person can be such a significant influence upon your life, even though you don’t foresee it.

And how you only get one life, and you get to choose how to live it, or else you let it happen to you, which sometimes isn’t fulfilling.

There used to be movies like “The Queen’s Gambit.” But they never grossed as much as the high concept fare with superheroes and special effects, so they stopped being made, they moved to television, as streaming series. But they’re even better on television, because the creators can go deeper, tell more. Like I said above, I wanted to know so much more about the lives and motivations of some of the characters.

Here’s hoping you’ve got a Mr. Shaibel in your life, who nurtures your dream.

Here’s hoping you give officiants like Mrs. Deardorff the middle finger.

Here’s praying that you’ve been taught to keep your eyes open and make your own life, that you’re not beholden to others’ expectations, that you can be the real you.

That was the message in the sixties.

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