Published Jul 01, 2006Spellbound inadvertently inaugurated a new documentary genre the nerd invitational in which were a) introduced to a brainy game, b) invited to meet its practitioners, and c) watch those personalities duke it out in a climactic tournament.
Scrabble-heads have received this royal treatment and now Wordplay turns its attention to crossword players. Largely presided over by The New York Times crossword editor, Will Shortz, the film gives us a brief tour of the people who make and enjoy the puzzles, from celebrities like Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton and the Indigo Girls to the brilliant mathematical civilians who both create and compete.
Its a pleasant jaunt with some likable contestants and a few dazzling feats of mental agility, but though the final competition is a nail-biter, Im not sure weve learned anything beyond "crosswords are neat. Though its interesting to discover that mathematicians and musicians are the most adept at the puzzles, further background information is sketchy at best and largely supplanted by an all-star love-in for the practice.
Im not asking for some crossword muckraker in which puzzlers are in league with international terrorists, but I am asking that people take a step back a few years after the famed commercial breakthrough for documentaries, the films are becoming no more controversial or demanding than any other commercial genre.
You wont feel like Wordplay is cheating you but you wont feel like its giving you much to chew on either, and the only strong feeling it gave me was nostalgia for the likes of Allan King and Frederick Wiseman. Call me old fashioned, but somebody has to start shaking up this formula before it hardens into frivolous irrelevance. (Alliance Atlantis)