Thursday, March 23, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 "Rollerball"


Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 


This was one of the films from my original project back in 2010. I was writing about films from the summers of the 1970s, my formative years, and this movie came out the same week that "Jaws" hit the marketplace. In spite of mixed reviews, I suspect it would have been a big hit except that it was overshadowed by the competition. I chose the film this week because it was referenced in a television series I am currently streaming. "Daisy Jones and the Six" is a fictional look at a 70s era band, along the lines of Fleetwood Mac. Two of the band members are obsessed with "Rollerball", actually calling it brilliant, and they are on their way to see it for the eighth time. That fictional enthusiasm was enough for me to go back and watch the film again for Throwback Thursday. 

When I went back to my original post, I was happy to see that it expressed my feelings about the film almost exactly as I was experiencing them this week. You should read that post here. The strength of the film is in the design of the game the movie is based on. The combination of roller derby, soccer and football plus the acceptance of violence that goes well beyond that in hockey and rugby, is a great show that will hypnotize the masses. The production design of the film starts off with a bang by showing off the track, the ball, the teams with their motorcycles and some futuristic fonts that seem to be realistic from the perspective of time. 

The color schemes of the teams are the only distinguishing element. I guess a logo might imply more choice than the proles are entitled to. The combination of the high tech track and the traditional fugue music sets an ominous tone that we will feel every time the game commences. I thought the teams individual struts on the track as they were entering also sets a martial tone and a sense of inevitable clash. 

Houston, the team that Johnathan E (James Caan) plays for, has the simple Houston stride, an in-line synchronized march that is direct, elegant and feels very determined. Other teams seem to have been more artistic, for example the Tokyo team has an arrow wedge that looks fearsome, and as they break out of the formation, they drop down to the center of the rink in a kamikaze style flourish.  The film comes to life the most in the three matches that we see. Of course as the rules are being changed to force Johnathan out of the game, the clashes become more elaborate, violent and ultimately deadly. 

Obviously, the script and the director were trying to say something about the dangers of corporate control over the world. Unfortunately, there are few places other than the game and Johnathan's personal life, that we see the stilting effect of corporate decision making. There is a sequence where Johnathan attempts to discover how corporate decisions are made. His wife had been taken away from him in what he sees as an arbitrary action. He wants to know why. 

The computer system that has replaced all the books, is limited in access and intelligence. There are not really librarians, just clerks who try to direct people but have no ability to find information on their own. It's as if Wikipedia had to be accessed through a human, who did not have any understanding of the information they control access to. Later in the film, Johnathan goes to Geneva, to the main data storage facility. If the director had spent less time at the idyllic party of drug addled executives, there might have been an opportunity to do some interesting exposition with the main computer "Zero". A video of the corporate wars or a quick summary of the current social conditions might have made Johnathan's individualism seem mor meaningful. Instead, there is a mildly amusing Ralph Richardson, playing word games with an A.I. that has a defective memory. It is a lost opportunity to do the thing the film purports to do. 

Early on there was a moment that I thought could be contrasted to the world of today in an interesting way. As the corporate anthem is being played before the first game, all the players are lined up obediently standing at attention, but Johnathan is clenching his fist and lightly pounding it against his leg. It is certainly not the act of defiance that kneeling on the sidelines or staying in the locker room for the anthem would have been. It sems the smallest act of individuality that could exist in the corporate world. 

Throughout the film, Director Norman Jewison uses classical music to set the mood, in a way that seems to deliberately invite comparison to  "Clockwork Orange." The use of some interesting architecture in West Germany (at the time), which is modernistic in the way a futurist might have suggested does the same thing. 

As I said earlier, my original post expresses my feelings about this film perfectly, but I hope that the few extra note here made your visit worthwhile. 


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