Ivory Tower is a Canadian feature film and the directorial debut of Adam Traynor, a musician from the German-based hip-hop group Puppetmastaz. The film was co-written by Canadian pianist and rapper Gonzales and French director and screenwriter Céline Sciamma.
It stars a variety of Canadian-born musicians, including Gonzales himself, Peaches, Feist and Tiga. Additionally, Gonzales’ mother appears in the film.
Ivory Tower is an existential sports comedy, a story of two brothers and their unhealthy rivalry over both the chessboard and a woman. Hershell is a chess purist, the prodigal son, an artist. Thadeus grew to be a disciplined, fierce and ruthless competitor, commercially exploiting his chess notoriety.
At the death of their father, Hershell spent four nomadic years travelling Europe in quixotic pursuit of his “Jazz Chess” theory: chess for chess’ sake, reduced to pure movement without the element of competition – and best played alone. There is no winner, no loser, only beautiful positions.
The film starts at his return home to Toronto, where he finds that his brother Thadeus has become the Canadian Chess Champion. Successful but arrogant, Thadeus supports their sick mother, has a rising media profile and is engaged to marry Marsha, Hershell’s former sweetheart for whom he still longs.
Hershell finds that Jazz Chess doesn’t attract the acclaim or investors he was hoping for; even kids playing chess in the park don’t seem to understand “chess without checkmate”. Discouraged by his prospects, and wanting Marsha back, Hershell finds himself drawn toward the competitive addiction from which he had run. He decides to challenge Thadeus for the upcoming Canadian Chess Championship.
DIRECTOR ADAM TRAYNOR’S NOTE:
Ivory Tower is a tour de force, a series set pieces performed with simple gestures in modulating forms. It’s a Rocky-inspired sports parody; a Sirkean melodrama; a nouvelle Nouvelle-vague Free Jazz riff; a music video; a YouTube bricolage; a silent era pastiche; a commercial.
In the end, Ivory Tower’s modal composition is the closest we’ll get to an explanation of Hershell’s esoteric vision for “Jazz Chess”. This is why (forgive the cliché) I like to think of Ivory Tower
Here’s the trailer for the movie: