REVIEW: So many things about the documentary White Boy confound our expectations of where a Netflix-hosted “true crime” yarn will head to.
The film is not, as the marketing and synopsis imply, a story about some seasoned Detroit teenage drug lord, but rather of a kid who got caught up in a world he could not control, and then paid the price for even being mentioned in the same breath as some of the true gangsters.
Richard Wershe Jr grew up in tough neighbourhoods on the eastern outskirts of Detroit. His dad was a hustler, a fixer and an FBI informant. During the mid- to late-1980s, at the absolute height of America’s delusional “war on drugs”, Wershe Snr began to co-opt his son into the family business.
By the time Wershe Jr was 14 years old, he was also on FBI’s books as a source of insider information on Detroit’s drug gangs. The most powerful of these almost certainly had many corrupt police and local government employees on their payrolls.
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Wershe Jr probably found himself with compromising information on a couple of the worst of these corruptees. They then pulled every string they could to see him either dead, or silent and rotting in prison for the rest of his life.
White Boy (the nickname was an invention of the press. Wershe and his associates never called him by it) lays all of this out in the style of a crime doco. And then neatly pulls the rug out with the revelation that the real villains of the film were the ones still outside when the cell doors shut. It’s an engrossing and oddly inspiring story, well-told.
Bobby Fischer Against the World is now available to stream on DocPlay and iTunes.
Meanwhile, with the world going deservedly nuts for the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit – and yes, it really is a quality bit of work – I was intrigued to read an opinion piece in The New York Times from a chess professional about what the show gets right, and the very few things it gets wrong.
Firstly, the show gets very high praise for the standard of the games. While film and TV art departments sometimes don’t even know how to set up a board, the makers of Queen’s Gambit brought in chess grandmaster and former world champion Garry Kasparov as a technical advisor, and then replayed – move by move – some legendary games from chess history, as featured games in the show.
But the most interesting discovery for me, was the writer’s insistence on how closely leading woman Elizabeth’s career mirrors the actual career of the late Bobby Fischer, the brilliant, but wildly problematic world champion who eventually died in exile in Iceland in 2008.
The Queen’s Gambit is now streaming on Netflix
The documentary Bobby Fischer Against The World, available at Alice’s, Aro Street Video and on DocPlay and iTunes, is a great introduction to this once-in-a-generation player, blessed and burdened by a form of genius that ran right to ragged edge of madness and delusion. It’s a great watch and the perfect place to go after Queen’s Gambit has finished.
And, if the makers of Queen’s Gambit are planning a second series, it also hints at some truly surreal and unexpected directions the show could take.