Thursday, 24 March 2011

Word Wars (2004) - Eric Chaikin & Julian Petrillo

Neat little documentary following four Scrabblers on their path to the 2002 National Scrabble Championship in San Diego. On route we take in various other Scrabble tournaments and get the skinny on just what makes Scrabble the game of choice for these people. Of course the fact that it's about Scrabble is neither here nor there, this is about people filling the empty void of their lives with something. Much the same as me with films I hear you trumpet. Well not quite, since these people don't seem to have girlfriends (it's an almost all male world), jobs or much of a life outside of the weird little world they have wandered into. Which would make them closer to drug addicts than film geeks.

The four types that we spend the most time with are the defending Scrabble champion Joe Edley, he's all new age Tai Chi smugness, meditating before matches and all that gubbins. Not the sort of guy you'd want sitting next to you on a long train journey. Next up is smart pill guzzling Matt Graham, he does a bit of stand up and not much else, he has a love hate relationship with Marlon Hill. Hill's favourite word is motherfucker, he's a bit of an angry black guy really, in one scene he really goes off on one about how bad it is that he speaks English and not African. Is African a language? He seems to like nothing more than squeezing a joint in between motherfuckers and angry outbursts. Last up is my favourite G.I. Joel Scherman, he's just about the most ill looking person I've seen that doesn't have cancer. He's constantly banging on about how wrong his body is, the G.I. stands for gastrointestinal reflux syndrome - you get the picture.

Anyway we follow these four beings around various shabby hotel rooms in The United States, and get to hear them wax lyrical on just about everything, but mainly Scrabble. Don't be put off if you don't like Scrabble though since this is proper car crash documentary making, in the same way that King of Kong didn't require any knowledge or love of arcade games. A fascination with life's misfits is enough to be certain that you'll adore this.

Chaikin & Petrillo have done a great job putting all this together in a coherent way. They obviously love the game and the subjects they are following, at no point do you get the feeling that they are doing this with one raised eyebrow. That's not to say they don't wring laughs out of some of the nonsense that drips from the lips of our Fantastic Four though. They kick the whole thing off by laying down the ground rules of the game. They manage to interview gamers at every level, I especially loved seeing the Washington Square Park players who don't involve themselves with the 'glitzy' world of pro Scrabble. If I had to be mean about one aspect of this documentary it would be something as petty as the dull graphics. But when a documentary is as engaging as this was then it seems wrong to mention something like that. So I won't. This is well deserving of eighty minutes of your life. See it.

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