Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Hans Richter and Jean Cocteau collaborated for three years to make this "Chess Sonata in 8 Movements," and the structure is everything. The title of the confusing avant garde exercise refers to the 8 x 8 arrangement of squares on a chessboard. Accordingly, the narrative is divided into eight portions, each one more baffling than the last. Arguably the best segment is the sixth, "Queening the Pawn," written by Jean Cocteau, who also makes a brief appearance (the rest of the cast is comprised of nonprofessionals).The idea is to present chess conundrums cinematically the way Lewis Carroll did in literature, particularly in Through the Looking Glass. Filmmaker Hans Richter, who'd previously collaborated on Cocteau's Blood of a Poet, designed his films like paintings; as a result 8 X 8 is visually dazzling, especially segment #2 ("A New Twist") -- even when the viewer is at a loss to understand what is going on. Like all of Richter's works, 8 X 8 had an unusually long gestation period, in this case three years!