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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Movie Review - Hard-hitting Story of Street Drinker who Became Chess Master

Chess blog for latest chess news and chess trivia (c) Alexandra Kosteniuk, 2012

Hi everyone,

We found this nice movie review of a chess movie. 

Barbaric Mind
Directed by Paul Duane


John Healy’s memoir, The Grass Arena, is one of the finest autobiographies I have ever read, and this documentary has brought both his book alive and also gives a further insight into one of the most intriguing people to have been born and bred in Kentish Town.

You will never look at someone clutching a bottle of high-strength booze on our streets the same way again after watching this film.

For those who are yet to read his hard-hitting book, published in 1986, Healy’s story is that of a working-class Kentish Town lad. 

Born into an Irish family during the dark days of the Second World War, he tasted violence at the hands of his father as a very young child, worked in markets as a porter, began drinking heavily in his early teens, worked as a pro boxer’s sparring partner, began drinking in parks and then on the streets, and eventually lived rough for more than 10 years.

He has some views that deserve air time regarding how we treat people who suffer from alcoholism. He says the vagrancy laws of the 1960s and 1970s constituted a form of “state terrorism against alcoholics”, and believes that with a high percentage of street drinkers in our area hailing from Ireland, the treat­ment was even worse as the The Troubles started.

Healy had, as he put it, 20 previous for serious crimes, but it was during one of his spells in prison that he shared a cell with notorious burglar “The Brighton Fox”. The Fox told him he could get the same kick he got from the large variety of crimes he was involved in by playing chess, and the former boxer-turned-street-wino discovered he had an incredible talent for the game.

He became a master and then a bit of a media star as he wrote a book on his life.

Then it fell out of print and he stepped back from the public eye. This film examines what happened next.

An aside: the film is littered with people and places readers will recognise, including St Martins Gardens in Camden Street (once a haunt for street drinkers and crack users, now landscaped and a more pleasant place to watch the world go by), Kentish Town landmarks – and New Journal editor Eric Gordon even pops up.

There is a strange angle to all this, and it comes from ideas of what it means to be successful. How do we measure such a concept?

It seems Healy feels his extraordinary talents need to be rubber-stamped by public recognition.

This is an underlying driver. He thinks the book was allowed to go out of print for a reason that has yet to be explained, rather than through the tangled tentacles of book market­ing systems.

It is sad but true that some books are brilliant but not well promoted.

None of this makes any difference to this excellent documentary.

Barbaric Genius is full of interesting talking heads of Healy’s friends.

It tells a fascinating story, and Healy is an exceptional person: watching him do yoga – he says he learned meditation during a 14-night stretch in solitary for violence – just adds another strange layer to this truly fascinating person with an incredible life story to tell.

From Alexandra Kosteniuk's
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