Search - Word Wars - Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Game Circuit on DVD

Word Wars - Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Game Circuit
Word Wars - Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Game Circuit
Actors: Mike Birbiglia, Joe Edley, Stefan Fatsis, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill
Directors: Eric Chaikin, Julian Petrillo
Genres: Comedy, Documentary
NR     2005     1hr 20min

Tracking four Scrabble fanatics as they travel from tournament to tournament and eventually reach the U.S. nationals in San Diego, the film is a thoroughly entertaining and hilarious look at a board game that's an oc...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Mike Birbiglia, Joe Edley, Stefan Fatsis, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill
Directors: Eric Chaikin, Julian Petrillo
Creators: Laela Kilbourn, Eric Chaikin, Conor O'Neill, Joe Rudge, Udy Epstein, Vivian Schiller
Genres: Comedy, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Documentary
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 04/05/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 20min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Member Movie Reviews

Lorraine S. (rainey) from WOODLAND HLS, CA
Reviewed on 7/15/2008...
This was a very interesting documentary that stayed with me. I actually thought I was ordering a different doc so I watched this without much anticipation and yet weeks later dimensions of it are still occurring to me.

It's the story of a group of people who play competitive Scrabble. There world is quite small and the skill set to make a place in it is very demanding. They memorize incredible lists of words and have facility with finding a variety of words in random assortments of letters. Their lives are marked by either constant play or constant running of their word inventories. They give their lives over to the tournament play available to them and, at least the players depicted, choose marginal employment and greatly constrict their lives despite their considerable, if peculiar, intellectual gifts so that they can live the game.

The six guys (they were all men) the doc features live in or in the close environs of NYC. They are all well known to one another. They are fiercely competitive and have one another constantly in their sites. And yet, and most remarkably, they take both their losses and their wins with little or quickly dissipating personal friction. They are truly in it for the process before the results.

I found it quite fascinating and I recommend it.

Movie Reviews

Is this a study in Scrabble Play or Obsessive Compulsiveness
B. Merritt | WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California | 07/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I had to seriously ask myself exactly what the directors of this amazing little film were trying to accomplish when they put together "Word Wars". Although we take a myopic look at World Championship Scrabble players, the film seemed to focus on human nature and psychology more than anything else.

Let me explain ...

This documentary follows the Scrabble-playing-lives of four obsessed players:

#1. "G.I." Joel Sherman, a dorky looking, 40-something guy with no job, sloppy clothes, and a nervous stomach that causes him to drink Mylanta by the gallon. He spends every minute of every day playing, thinking about, or studying words for Scrabble.

#2. Marlon Hill is a dreadlocked black man who is unemployed, bitter about how America treats its colored countrymen and women, smokes pot, and occasionally visits grade schools to tell the kids about why he plays Scrabble and how they can become good at it, too. He also apparently loves prostitutes, as we watch him go to Tijuana and employ one (or two). This guy also has a serious anger management problem.

#3. Matt Graham takes brain stimulating supplements (PILES of them!), wears sloth-like clothes with holes in them, and will play Scrabble anywhere at anytime with anyone ...especially if there are bets on the table.

#4. Joe Edley is one of the few players we see who actually has a job outside of Scrabble competitions. He's also the 2001 defending national champion. But can he maintain his crown?

Although Scrabble is why these men are battling to reach San Diego and play in the 2002 national tournament (Grand Prize, $25,000), it's their bizarre lifestyles and complete obsessiveness with Scrabble that really caught my interest. Living off of smaller tournament wins -- just a few thousand dollars at best -- and then, maybe, winning the $25,000 grand prize in San Diego, even the best player is living off of less than $35,000 a year! And he still has to pay for his travel, motels, meals, etc., at all of these events. Which begs the question, "How can you survive simply by winning Scrabble tournaments?" The easy answer is that they can't.

Although there was never any mention of it, I'm sure that many of these players live off of the welfare system and, probably, their families. I'm sure that many of them also have regular psychiatric visits and are on appropriate medication for multiple personality problems.

Interestingly, it is BECAUSE of these incredibly bizarre behaviors that you, the viewer, actually become vested in what happens to them.

Because they get angry with themselves and each other.

Because they smoke pot or drink medication to settle themselves down.

Because they refuse to find a job and make a sustainable living outside of Scrabble play.

All of these things made for a strangely interesting viewing experience. Not because of the Scrabble games, but because these are seriously flawed people playing it obsessively.

Move aside, Boggle-playing Chicken!
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 03/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This documentary sheds light on four men who prepare to play in the National Scrabble Championship. Upon first impression, these guys may seem like nerds or idiots savants. One is employed; one is underemployed; and two have no jobs whatsoever. The work begs the question of how do they pay for food and shelter, Scrabble issues aside. One interviewee says participants have to pay for transportation and lodging to the Championship. Well, how were they able to do that? The first prize is $25,000. First off, that's less than the average American man earns in a year. Second, Uncle Sam is going to take a good chunk of that in taxes. So why be obsessed over something so trivial?

Original bad impressions aside, these men are mostly admirable and no different from many others. Like most males, they love competition, hanging with their boys, being obsessive over their leisure activities, and placing bets. These guys are no different from professional and student athletes who train 24-7 for very little compensation.

The most intriguing interviewee here is Marlon, the African-American gentleman. He looks like mumZ, the man who played Poet in the "Oz" series. But his actions reminded me of the Black character in "Chasing Amy." Marlon calls himself "a pre-Mecca Malcolm [X]." However, Malcolm at that time was a separatist; though Marlon speaks of Black empowerment and combating Eurocentricity, he hangs with all the white players here without any hesitations. Is he just all talk? Professional movie critics have registered their shock about his foul language and drugs-taking, but what stood out to me was his patronage of the "oldest profession." Like a positive brother, he coaches young, Black students in Scrabble. With his gift for words, I would love to have seen him get an early education degree and go teach at the type of school where he merely volunteers. I think I'm going to be digesting this Marlon guy, both simple and profound, for the next few weeks.

This documentary is a tribute to men who have a love of words. Both interviewees and the directors produce anagrams all over the place. I was proud to note that I knew the definitions or etymologies of approximately half of the words that the players spelled. To be honest, some of the spelled words were proper nouns and I thought those could not be used under official Scrabble rules. Still, I found it disturbing that players learned how to spell words but gave no thought, in fact avoided, learning their meanings.

Some critics have dismissed this documentary as "Spellbound for Grown Men." I enjoyed this documentary more than the former one. Whereas I felt pain for those child contestants, I was indifferent to these men because they have their full faculties and can make their own decisions. The winners and losers here will surprise you. I guess the meek will inherit the Earth.

I do recommend that every adult see this fine work."
Fun & Illuminating Look at the Scrabble Subculture.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 03/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Word Wars" follows 4 competitive Scrabble players through the months leading up to the 2002 National Scrabble Championship in San Diego, whose winner takes home $25,000 and gets to appear on the Today Show. Invented in the 1930s, Scrabble had become a competitive exercise by the 1970s. Like the movie says, "this is not your grandmother's Scrabble". Each player gets 25 minutes on his or her clock per game. Tournaments last a few days. Some of the players study daily, agonize over strategy, travel from tournament to tournament, and have no visible means of support. Scrabble is an obsession.

"Word Wars" starts by interviewing Scrabble players in New York's Washington Square Park who play for a penny a point. They're a diverse group with some top notch players among them, and we periodically revisit the Park over the course of the film. Documentarians Eric Chaikin & Julian Petrillo have chosen 4 eccentric, but apparently not atypical, players through which to explore the "trials and tribulations on the Scrabble circuit". Matt Graham is a part-time comedy writer and stand-up comedian who takes brain-boosting supplements and smart drugs to sharpen his skills. Joe Edley is a former National Champion who relies on meditation to calm the emotional roller coaster of competitive Scrabble. He's also the only one of the group who has a family and steady job. "G.I." Joel Sherman aspires to be a professional Scrabble player -if only one could make a living at Scrabble. He's never far from his bottle of Maalox, which he chugs constantly for acid reflux. Marlon Hill has dreadlocks and a Scrabble-playing family. He teaches elementary school students how to play the game, answers their questions about competition, and admits that he does nothing for a living.

We follow these men through 3 tournaments, private competitions, meet some of their families, and listen to them discuss Scrabble, each other, and the mental processes involved in remembering so many words. Surprisingly, some very competitive Scrabble players are not native English speakers, or even good English speakers, and, as Marlon said, "word meanings are absolutely useless". There are also interviews with Executive Director of the National Scrabble Association John D. Williams and Hasbro Games President Dave Wilson, who talk about the controversies surrounding what words would be deemed acceptable by the Official Scrabble Dictionaries. 1987 National Champion Rita Norr talks about women in Scrabble. "Word Wars" culminates in day-by-day coverage of the 2002 National Championship in which 700 players competed. The film is a fun, interesting, and honest look at a quirky American subculture and its unusual brand of celebrity.

The DVD: There are 14 bonus sequences that provide more interviews with the 4 men, the Washington Square Park gang, and other players who participated in the Championship. And there are 3 trailers for other documentaries."