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Rollerball (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1975
Studio: 
Arrow Video
Genre: 
SF/Action
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
B
Aspect Ratio: 
1.85:1
Directed by: 
Norman Jewison
Cast: 
James Caan
John Houseman
Maud Adams
John Beck
Moses Gunn
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5
Video: 
Click to Play

The rise of globalisation and the erosion of the political influence of nation states by powerful, unelected and unaccountable multinational interests; the digitisation and on-line cross-referencing of the world’s information, and the increasing difficulty of sifting through the competing chatter of voices and opinion to find authentic knowledge in an interconnected virtual world; the evolution of sport into a multimillion dollar, media-controlled business and the creation of its highly paid sporting ‘heroes’ as idols held up as objects to be worshipped as they become the subjects of media gossip and speculation, their lifestyles symbols of aspiration for millions of fans who will never even begin to approach the same level of wealth … These are just some of the most visible themes of modern life in the twenty-first century. They were also the building blocks put together by screenwriter William Harrison and producer-director Norman Jewison in 1975 to create a controversial science fiction dystopia which feels today like an uncannily predictive indictment of the world we’re actually living in, anticipating, for example, some of the tropes and many of the themes that run through Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series in which the general population of the future is kept pacified by violent, gladiatorial reality TV spectacles.

But beneath its mixture of bloody, kinetically shot scenes of future world sporting action and the clinically composed, Kubrickian aesthetic that denotes the consume-based luxury lifestyle imagined surrounding them, “Rollerball” is, most of all I think, a fascinating but very 1970s examination of western masculinity in crisis. Despite the unspecific near-future setting, its themes of male alienation and inauthenticity are the culmination of a subtext which could be found running below the surface of a great many plays and movies produced in the postwar period, a mood first captured by the ‘Angry Young Men’ playwrights of the 1950s then later developed by European filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini into a critique of the existential emptiness they considered to lie at the heart of modern life for the wealthy postwar generation who had adapted to a consumer based lifestyle after the economic miracle that defined social conditions in the late-fifties/early-sixties, and which seemed to many, particularly in mainland Europe, to be merely repressing rather than diffusing the bitter and unresolved ideological struggles of the war years. James Caan’s character of Jonathan E  appears to be the embodiment of a fear of emasculation wrought by social and economic conditions that value comfort (and therefore domesticity) above all else, in a world without war, want, or individual effort. Add a dash of good old-fashioned 1970s conspiratorial political paranoia to the standard Orwellian/ Huxley recipe for dystopia, and you have in “Rollerball” a piece of mainstream Hollywood cinema that is also one of the most unique and questioning films of this entire decade, made by someone not usually associated with the science fiction genre at all.

Made in England at Pinewood Studios, with ten weeks of location shooting in Munich (which included locations later utilised by Dario Argento for "Suspiria"), “Rollerball” was originally inspired by a short story written by Harrison and picked up by Esquire magazine, titled “The Rollerball Murders”. The director of “In the Heat of the Night” (1965) and “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968),  Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison, had just completed two musicals in England, where he was now based – “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973) – and was interested not in the science fiction elements of the story per se, or in futuristic concepts concerning spaceships or robots, etc., but in the human drama at the heart of the tale’s sporting theme -- which was really a projection of contemporary concerns about the current direction of sport in general: the increasing violence associated in the 1970s with games such as Hockey and Basketball, and the popularity of dangerous stunts performed by daredevil celebrities like Evel Knievel; also, the domination of television viewing figures in determining what constituted success in sport, and the elevation of certain team players into hugely wealthy superstars through massive sponsorship deals.

Harrison combined these contemporary sporting gripes with tentative fears already being expressed in some quarters about the rise of corporate society and the power of huge, anonymous business conglomerates (the first stirrings of a cultural awareness of the phenomenon of globalisation), throwing in the -- requisite in SF – usual paranoia about the transformative nature of technology -- who controls it and to what end -- to come up with a concept for a dystopia which is very conciesly set up by the opening scenes of the film with minimal exposition (the screenplay for which was an extrapolation of the original short story idea, and also written by Harrison). Although marketed in the US on the back of its dynamic scenes of high-octane action, which take place during the three Rollerball tournaments scattered as markers throughout the two-hour film, this is an exceptionally intelligently conceived piece of work which owes much to consciously artistically composed filmmaking styles and slower rhythms seen in the films of such filmmakers as Fellini and Antonioni. Its most obvious aesthetic debts are owed to Stanley Kubrick on several fronts: first in terms of its visualisation of the near future, which takes equally from the claustrophobic antiseptic sterility of the space station interiors in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the vision of the future expressed in “A Clockwork Orange”, where everything still looks recognisably contemporary yet is given just enough of a design twist (with the addition of modernist architectural spaces and fashions that draw from a mixture of historical periods), to foster the illusion of otherness necessary in order to convince an audience that this is a believable but also still-relatable conception of the future.

One other obvious similarity to both films lies in Jewison’s use of classical music as his means of scoring the movie, rather than – apart from in one scene -- contemporary pop music or an original score, both of which might’ve dated  the movie more quickly. This is a canny move, but also interesting (and a contributing factor to the unusual, reflective tone of much of the film) is the fact that all of the musical selections heard being played by the London Symphony Orchestra, and arranged and conducted by André Previn, are situated diegetically within the narrative as part of the same world in which the story’s characters exist. Music’s only purpose within the world created by the film seems to be  to function in a similar way to how a conventional non-diegetic score might be used in a mainstream Hollywood movie: to determine the appropriate mood and trigger a preferred sort of response to whatever particular social situation the characters find themselves in. Music in this world, then, becomes another form of social control through pacification, forming a tasteful, harmonious underscore to the blandness of corporate life. Romantic pieces are even piped into people’s homes during their dinner parties, etc., although no-one remembers who wrote them or where they comes from. This is a world in which not only is all knowledge prohibited, but where no-one is given any reason to want to think about or learn about anything anyway; where it no longer occurs to people to even ask questions. They know something called the Corporate Wars once occurred, and some people can even remember a time when there were still three nations. But no-one has access to any structured history of how the world was before the current era. For most of the time they seem to exist in a sort of ‘material dream world’ – a peaceful, Zen-like state in which the ascendancy of corporate society is presumed to have always been the ‘inevitable destiny’ of civilisation.

The film begins with the grandly dramatic introductory flourish of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor – which sets up the gladiatorial atmosphere of the first Rollerball game of the movie, seen being prepared for as the venue is lit, TV crews assembled and trackside authorities gather before the crowds take their places for the opening ceremony. Here we are witness to the deliberate construction of a ‘sporting atmosphere’, as the public start to drift into the amphitheatre/sporting arena to cheer for one of the two opposing teams about to take part, and a sonorous sense of occasion is whipped up by the grandeur of Bach’s  majestic organ runs. It soon becomes clear to us that the executives of the multinational corporation that controls this world have adopted the role of a new type of political class occupying the twin roles of heads of state and priestly cast. There are no longer any nation states in this world -- they’ve all gone bankrupt; instead, one giant, faceless corporation controls everything everywhere through domination of all facets of economic life: technology, capital, labour and markets. All the various services necessary for the maintenance of society, such as transport, housing or energy are run by various subsidiaries of the corporation from different world cities, and these cities come together regularly to compete in the Rollerball Championship – a relentless, violent and fast-paced game played by two teams of seven skaters on a slanted, circular roulette wheel-like track surrounded by a baying crowd.

Clad in body-armour and accompanied by motorcyclists, the players’ aim is to prevent their opponents gaining possession of and then scoring with a steel ball that’s shot out of a cannon at the edge of the track before the start of each round. The game is dangerous, bloodthirsty and violent -- with players deliberately injuring and sometimes killing each-other during play. It functions as a societal safety valve for the natural aggression of the masses: a substitute for their tribal feelings of nationalism, which no longer have an outlet in a world without warring nations or politics. Competing religions have also been replaced with a singular, bland, worldwide corporate identity manifested in the singing of each city’s hymn-like corporate anthem before each game gets underway. There is no democracy because there is nothing for the people to decide on … The Corporation takes care of everything. And its internal workings -- the reasons for the decisions it makes -- are as opaque to the suited executives charged with carrying out its operations as they would be to everyone else if they ever stopped to question them in the first place. The game of Rollerball has been created not only to provide a controlled outlet for partisan feelings of nationalism, but to demonstrate the futility of individual thought and effort -- since the only way to survive the game of Rollerball is to think as part of your team, and even then no-one survives it for very long before either being killed or invalided out of the game for good.

No-one, that is, apart from one man -- Jonathan E (James Caan). Jonathan has not only survived but flourished while playing for the Houston team, becoming the sport’s highest scorer and the most celebrated Rollerball player of the past ten years. Under the aegis of the Energy Corporation and its elderly corporate sponsor Mr Bartholomew (an enigmatic John Houseman), he has become a worldwide superstar and has been rewarded handsomely by the Corporation as a result, with a luxury lifestyle and a special ‘privileges card’. During the opening game of the film, played between Jonathan’s Houston team and Madrid, we see the exceptional delight he takes in his sport’s brutal glory -- screaming ‘I love this game!’ as the bodies of his opponents are battered and crushed and scattered in the relentless high-speed chaos of play.

These Rollerball action sequences are skilfully shot and edited with a delirious, high impact intensity by Anthony Gibb (the original editor of the studio rejected cut of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s “Performance”) that, ironically enough, demonstrates the magnetic attraction of violence in a sporting context, even though director Norman Jewison intended the film partly as a condemnation of TV’s power to manipulate and instigate such vicarious pleasures amongst its viewers in the pursuit of higher ratings. The rest of the film, though, takes an unexpectedly sedate and measured approach more indicative of European arthouse cinema – Harrison appropriately describes the movie as ‘“Last Year in Marienbad” with action scenes’ in the ‘making of’ featurette on this Blu-ray – with Caan giving a daringly still, almost somnolent performance in the lead role of Jonathan whenever the character’s vacant, etiolated lifestyle beyond the game is depicted in his luxury ranch home or amongst the modernist rotunda tower blocks and high-tech domes (which are all provided by contemporary landmarks in the city of Munich, such as Georg Flinkerbusch’s Audi Dome and Karl Schwanzer’s BMW Tower) that make up the environment of this near-future world. Its gleaming futuristic facades and the antiseptic corridors & spaces inside them, housing, for instance, Bartholomew’s minimalist office, are conceived by production designer John Box to look like something midway between on the one hand new age meditation centres or a holistic clinic, and on the other the floor space of a pristine art gallery dedicated to the display of conceptual installations and sculptures. This world looks somewhat like the one we know, but is leeched of all passion and drama and desire. The wealthy executive classes may seem on the outside to be cultured, urbane and colourful  -- a decadent party scene staged in the style of a Radley Metzger erotic film (and soundtracked by Previn’s idea of futuristic progressive funk), is populated by bored-looking pill-popping sybarites in Fellini-esque makeup and Grecian-style robes, their almost trance-like festivities documented by Jewison in one long, deliberate, scroll-like sideways tracking shot -- but their filtered orderly lives depend completely for any content on the taking of a vicarious drug-fuelled pleasure in the violence and carnage of the game that's almost erotic in its nature -- especially for the unfulfilled wives and concubines of the executives for whom Rollerball players have become elevated fantasy figures of carnal lust. Mr Bartholomew sums up the social dynamic that’s in play here during a post-game dressing room pep talk with the victorious Houston players after the Madrid game: though Rollerball players may dream of one day getting to wear a suit and be promoted to the executive class (like Jonathan E’s sparring partner Cletus [Moses Gunn]), executives fantasise of nothing other than the glory of being worshipped as star Rollerball players …

This fact becomes the source of all Jonathan E’s troubles, as he learns when he’s summoned to Mr Bartholomew’s office and told that the Executive Directorate of the Corporation has suddenly decided out of the blue that he should retire from the game before the Houston team’s upcoming quarter-final match against Tokyo -- decreeing that a currently in-production ‘multi-vision’ reality show, in which cameras are set to follow the star player everywhere he goes and document all aspects of Jonathan’s life (reality TV seems to be the one inevitable development of television culture, simply because near enough everyone working in SF had already been ‘predicating’ it since the ‘60s), would be the perfect place to announce the decision, as the whole world will be watching. A confused Jonathan, however, does not want to give up the game, and refuses to read his pre-scripted retirement speech during a studio interview recorded especially for the documentary. While he struggles to come to terms with this demand being suddenly made upon him, and to find out why it has been issued in the first place, the rules of Rollerball are changed to make it even more dangerous -- all as a means of trying force Jonathan out. But despite these rule changes resulting in his best friend Moonpie (John Beck) being critically injured during the match, left technically brain dead at the Karate and Hapkido-skilled hands of the death-blow dealing Tokyo team, Jonathan refuses to relent. Pressure continues to be put upon him from all sides, and as the final match against New York looms, news comes through that all penalty rules and substitutions will be removed for this last game of the championship, effectively rendering it a rule-free death match in which no-one can expect to leave the track alive at the end.

Despite the paranoid air of political conspiracy present throughout the screenplay, with Harrison foregrounding in the narrative Jonathan E’s search to uncover the hidden reasons behind the powers-that-be suddenly wishing to be rid of him, the thinking behind their reasoning is, in fact, never a mystery to the viewer at all: as far as Bartholomew and the higher-ups in the corporation are concerned, Jonathan’s fame singles him out as an individual of note in a society founded on the suppression of individuality in exchange for social stability and personal consumer ‘comfort’. When star players develop a cult of personality around them, they become people who stand out from the crowd as symbols of individual attainment and effort. After ten years of success in a game no single player is meant to excel in, Jonathan E has become just such a symbol and is therefore dangerous. So, for ideological reasons, the Corporation has decided he has to go.

The interesting thing about the film’s depiction of Jonathan’s quest for the truth is how difficult it is for him, as someone raised from birth in this kind of anti-individualistic society, even to formulate any concept at all of an opposition to corporate dictates. The film’s success as a representation of an alternative society lies not just in its convincing visual realisations of its (now retro) futuristic architecture, costumes, and the design and organisation of its inhabited spaces, but in its extrapolation of global capitalism as an all-consuming ideology in which information and even personal memory are commoditised and controlled by an invisible, homogenous global corporate entity, to such an extent that any sense of individual expression becomes an impossibility for the people who live in it.

 Jonathan’s lifestyle when off the Rollerball track is a luxuriant one, spent surrounded constantly by designer model home comforts such as gian TV screens that relay multiple simultaneous images of his departed wife Ella (three-times Bond girl Maud Adams), accompanied by a romantic composition (Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto), that’s beamed straight into the home and that appears to convey the shadow of the wistful feelings of loss Jonathan would be experiencing if he could even manage to understand his own soul.

Caan plays Jonathan E with a sleepwalker's passivity, as someone who not only doesn’t know what to think, but doesn’t know how to either, because it has never been necessary for him to do so before: his sense of being has always been defined by the game (for which he has sacrificed, it seems, even the very idea of love) and the prospect of that now being taken away makes Jonathan realise that he would be left with nothing in life he could take value from. Attempting to process his predicament leads him tentatively to try to understand how the world came to be organised this way, but the state-of-the-art libraries he visits (or ‘Luxury Centres’ as they are here known) contain no physical books, only state-sanitised electronic ‘summaries’ of world literature and history volumes' former contents. Hoping to access the books themselves and to find out about the Corporate Wars and their aftermath, Jonathan has to go all the way to Geneva in a very Strangelovian interlude where he encounters the eccentric librarian (played by Sir Ralph Richardson) charged with overseeing ‘the world’s giant electronic brain’ Zero – a pre-internet vision of advanced artificial intelligence created to house all the world’s recorded history and knowledge in one giant inter-connected neural memory pool ( it is literally just that, since Zero turns out to be a Perspex box of organic liquids -- its workings supposedly based on an abstruse branch of computational fluid mechanics). According to its clearly deranged elderly overseer, Zero is ‘supposed to tell us where things are, and what they might possibly mean.’ Not only are the concepts on which human identity is founded now controlled by a global media industry which is also a branch of the state, but the vehicles of knowledge itself have become virtual, ungraspable and abstracted, and so voluminous that no full picture of anything can be grasped; an idea made all the more disturbing for the present day viewer because of an unavoidable recognition that its vision bears an uncanny resemblance to the digital revolution taking place in our own society: physical media being increasingly replaced with digital formats usually owned or hosted by one giant multinational platform with the power to control all access; and even where this world of digitized  information is available at the fingertips of all, it is often with little means of organising it into a coherent picture.

Being a vision of existential dystopia, “Rollerball” of course goes even further and delves into an examination of how relationships between men and women have become dissipated and diluted by the process of commodification that defines this particular brave new world: Jonathan’s wife Ella has been ‘reassigned’ to an higher up corporate executive, and so Jonathan is provided with a succession of beautiful courtesans as compensation. They look like perfectly manicured and styled magazine models, chosen to augment his showroom of a home. But they clearly inspire little emotion in him. This is a portrait of an alienated man, neutralised and emasculated by domestic harmony and home comforts; Jonathan’s ranch homestead, surrounded by natural woodlands, and his penchant for horse-riding amid the wilderness, attest to some trace memory perhaps of former American symbols of rugged, individualistic masculine pride no longer existent (where have all the cowboys gone indeed?), and it comes to be clear to the viewer (if not to Jonathan) that the violence and male camaraderie of the Rollerball game, with its tribal unities and organised modes of violence, has become a perverted hyper-stylised outlet for these disavowed tokens of male identity, and for physical contact. Jonathan’s sadistic attack on Daphne (Barbara Trentham) -- one of the love objects assigned by the corporation to try and persuade him to give up the game – demonstrates how distorted and degenerate his individualism has become. The corporate lifestyle has produced a world of endless leisure populated by men who have to destroy each other in ritualised games of combat in order to feel alive, and women such as Mackie (Pamela Hensley), Jonathan’s former Corporation-supplied love interest, who take pleasure in destroying the symbols of natural order, authenticity, sensuality and ‘earthiness’ that oppose the synthetic artifices of domestic contrivance which have been accepted as their replacements.

This idea refers to perhaps the films single most poignant sequence -- more so than the one in which Jonathan erases the last remembrance video of Ella after it become clear to him that she now represents the corporation’s interests, despite her seemingly reasonable view of civilisation as a struggle against poverty and need; more so than the one in which Jonathan refuses to switch off the life support systems of his comatose teammate Moonpie (despite the protestations of an insistent medic, played by Bert Kwouk); and even more so than that final bloody maelstrom of rule-free violence on the Rollerball track at the film's conclusion, designed to do away with the troublesome Jonathan  for good, but from which he  emerges instead triumphant, in pixelated freeze-frame amid a final blast of Bach’s fanfare, as the only survivor and ultimate peoples’ champion. Instead the most memorable sequence is one in which Mackie and a coterie of dissolute, drunk party-goers stumble outside into the dawn mist after what was supposed to have been Jonathan’s TV retirement announcement, and amuse them-selves by destroying a row of ancient trees with a laser gun … The nihilism, the insouciant numbness, and the lack of intrinsic value or worth being placed on this heart-stoppingly idyllic environment during the sequence is chilling, tragic: Jonathan may ultimately be a destructive symbol of chaos and discord; and this society’s self-created destroyer. But the moral vacuity at its core is nowhere more poetically illustrated than in this single unenduringly sad tableau.                

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, “Rollerball” comes to Blu-ray looking a great deal better than it has ever looked before on DVD. The High Definition Master was produced by MGM and obtained by Arrow Video through Hollywood Classics and I think it looks pretty good, if prone to suffering from excessive grain in darker sequences, but this is often the case with 1970s movies. In general this digital transfer is a vast improvement, though, and the splashes of primary colour in John Box’s production design really stand out -- for instance, against the Plexiglas & chrome sterility of the Energy Corporation’s main headquarters or in the exotic dresses of the females attending the executives’ party  and its destructive aftermath. The movie’s original 2.0 stereo soundtrack is available on the disc, as well as a new 5.1 DTS HD master mix. An isolated music and effects track has also been included, as are optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Canadian producer-director Norman Jewison recorded his commentary in 1997 for the MGM DVD release, while writer William Harrison’s separate commentary was recorded in 2000. Both give good accounts of the ideas behind the film and the contemporary events that spurred this extrapolation of social trends into a near-future dystopia. Jewison was living in London having recently directed “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” and became captivated by Harrison’s short story, “The Rollerball Murders” first published in Esquire in 1973. He optioned the story and was then contacted by Harrison, who was asked to write the screenplay for a movie adaptation which Harrison was already at work on before the short story was even published. Jewison seemed to be attracted to the story’s future world envisioning of a society in which violent spectator sports have become an accepted social phenomenon having noted how the TV coverage of Hockey games often seemed to focus more on any violence that occurred on the ice during the game than on the play. This was a period when The Philadelphia Flyers became associated with a rougher style of play, earning the team the nickname The Broad Street Bullies. Jewison was also attracted to the subject matter after noting the beginnings of the modern trend in the 1970s for sports’ personalities to be more and more glamorised by the media and held up as role models who were highly rewarded with huge pay packets as their teams became more corporatized, with increasing linkage to big media organisations. Harrison’s intuitive leap was to connect all this to ideas about how society might evolve into a post-democratic corporate society, the same way as medieval feudal society had morphed into the nation state and paved the way for the emergence of the concept of nationalism. Noting how the chariot racing contests and Gladiator sports in the Circus Maximus of the Ancient Roman Republic had acted as a form of state-sponsored entertainment that linked religious celebration to an endorsement of the state’s power enabled Harrison to envision how this form of social control might return in a corporate world of powerful multinationals superseding nations and using violent television spectacle to shape the thinking of the masses.

Both Jewison and Harrison talk about the shooting of the movie, concentrating a lot on the first ten weeks of filming in Munich, during which the three action game sequences seen at various points in the film were shot at the Audi Dome basketball stadium. Harrison talks about the development of the Rollerball game rules, which evolved as the film’s stunt men worked on the action sequences until, between them, Harrison and the team had created an actual game that could be played for real, something Jewison encouraged them to do during the final round of shooting -- with the proviso that everyone should make sure that nobody got hurt! Naturally, given the nature of the game, there were injuries among the stunt team taking part in the film and appearing on screen as Rollerball players, although serious accidents were kept to a minimum. The most serious injury was sustained by stunt man Tony Brubaker, playing Houston team player Blue, who shattered his leg for a stunt in which he had to crash into the wire fencing that surrounding the circular stadium, designed by John Box and made by architect Herbert Schurmann. Both Jewison and Harrison also talk through their individual perspectives on most of the film’s keynote scenes, each giving his own take on the mood or message they were seeking to convey.

These opinions and reflections are summarised in a 25 minute ‘making of’ featurette, “Return to the Arena” originally made for the MGM DVD and ported over here. This features interviews with Jewison, Harrison, film editor Anthony Gibbs and stunt co-ordinator & second unit director Max Kleven among others. “Blood Sports with James Caan” is a brand new 11 minute featurette made by Arrow Films in association with Red Shirt Pictures. This is a nice little interview with the seventy-five-year-old actor who evidently looks back with great fondness on the film. He relates many of his experiences while making it, a process that required him to learn to skate on the specially made circular track which was slanted at 38 degrees. He also had to train to do many of his own stunts. Caan comes across as a much more relaxed soul than he often seemed whilst at the height of his career in the 1970s, and this is a charming look back at a period during when he was certainly at his peak physically. In the 18 minute featurette “The Fourth City” (made by Fiction Factory) unit manager Dieter Meyer revisits the Audi Dome and recalls his involvement with the parts of the film shot in Munich locations such as the BMW Tower. Jimmy Berg, who had a small role as a Houston team ‘rookie’, talks  about shooting with extras inside the basketball stadium used as the site in which the Rollerball track was created; while present day manager of the Audi Dome Moritz Bieitner brings us up to speed on the venue’s post-film history. “The Bike Work” is a 17 minute featurette, again made by Fiction Factory, in which stuntman Craig R. Baxley goes into more detail on how the stunt team for the film was originally put together and how specific action sequences involving skaters and the motorbikes accompanying them around the track, were thought-out and shot after an audition held in the US to find the ten best stuntmen in the world (which included Britain’s Roy Scammell), who were then flown out to Munich to be joined by top Roller Derby and Irish Roller Hockey skaters to take part in the shooting of the live-action Rollerball games. Finally, “From Rome to Rollerball” is the original 8 minute promotional piece shot as part of the film’s 1975 Electronic Press Kit, which includes interviews with James Caan and Norman Jewison, and fascinating behind-the-scenes footage of the game sequences being shot, which show how cameramen on skates kept track of the action. Trailers and three TV spots are included and the set comes with a reversible sleeve featuring a choice between original artwork or a new piece by Paul Shipper. The full-colour collector’s booklet features an incisive essay on the movie’s relevance to today’s society by film writer James Oliver, along with archive stills and illustrations.

“Rollerball” is a rare breed of classic, combining old-school Hollywood action with artfully measured European stylization. This Arrow Video release offers an excellent way to experience a true ‘70s original.  

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night! 

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