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Written by / 5/06/2018 / No comments / , , , , , , , ,

SCRUTINIZING THE FUTURE-SPORT CULT-WORLD OF 'ROLLERBALL'

Co-Star John Beck goes for absolute broke in Rollerball YEAR: 1975
Science-Fiction usually has only rich and poor, no middle. ROLLERBALL is somewhat different. Everyone seems to be equal, and there's no war or hunger as a hierarchy of businessman are running things. A cross between Capitalism and Communism that's far more the latter despite this future-world being called Corporate...

Where James Caan's character, Jonathan E., being such an incredible, standout athlete, is forced to retire the titular game — an intense hybrid of roller derby with the circular-arced rink; basketball with a silver cubed ball providing the score when placed or tossed in a metallic portal; hockey with the spontaneously awesome, fan-adoring fist-fights (also attributed to roller derby); and motorcycle races being that the bikes, like picador's horses in a bullfight, roam the edges of the interior: in this case pulling and/or blocking their players, and can be lethal to whoever's on the other side. 

A strangely Nic Cagey James Caan
It would take an entire post alone to describe how the game works, which is still not exactly clear — and really doesn't need to be since ROLLERBALL is filmed with such fervent, dynamic intensity, including creative camera angles popular in the day — the action and violence involved in the game is entertaining enough...

John Beck as Moonpie
Which is the purpose for both the film's and the fictional audience. But mainly, ROLLERBALL involves Jonathan's cult status overriding the game itself...

Like most rogue heroes in bleak, existential, futuristic thrillers, he's determined to investigate exactly what's going on and, as for the reasons of the game and Corporate Society keeping everything in check, it's up to the previous year's PAPER CHASE Oscar-winner John Houseman's ultra-serious, hauntingly monotone, extraordinarily businesslike voice to sell the (what later is a more revealed) concept...

"We don't please allegiance, to John Houseman..."
Character-wise, on the other side of the spectrum, just as strong, albeit physically, is James Caan. While he's surprisingly quiet and brooding "in person," his usual charismatic prowess shines during the sport, running circles throughout a trio of merciless games. And he's not alone. Where Caan's allowed to gel into the material, it's up to another jock to really stand out, and literally stand tall: That being his giant teammate, Moonpie, a wide-shouldered, square-jawed, boisterous, confident, scene-stealing sidekick played by John Beck (the messianic Erno in Woody Allen's future in SLEEPER)...

Of the three matches: One goes by normal rules, an introduction; another with no rules, taking place in Tokyo: the important action-sequence a cross between a Wild West Shootout and World War II flick; and the finale: But it's not all blood and sweat in this famously bloody, sweaty venture. The world beyond the sport is where most of the time is spent. Within a fancy, sophisticated, intellectual party, Jonathan and Moonpie stand out like ragged thorns in a seemingly flawless, Eden-like Utopia, both adored and looked-down-upon equally...

Pamala Hensley bucks up
Especially memorable is a two-tier scene at the dawn of the party, with Jonathan holding firm against Houseman's Bartholomew, making sure the star player quits on the spot, that night...

A thankless Barbara Trentham
At the same time, in the "backyard" forest, a group of classy sophisticates jovially wield a supped-up pistol that fires bullet-sized torpedoes into a row of doomed (and probably near-extinct) trees...

Especially future TV's BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY sex-pot Pamela Hensley who, along with Jonathan's dismayed pseudo girlfriend, Barbara Trentham, means more plot-wise than a glorified cameo by third-billed Maud Adams as Jonathan's ex wife, stolen by the Corporation: his personal "Rosebud" of sorts...

Screw the rules ROLLERSCORE: ****
Overall it's a mechanically surreal motion picture you should be in an energetic yet melancholy mood to intentionally suffer through. Director Norman Jewison, said to be influenced by Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, combines the hypocrisy of the rich with the boundless energy of the common man. With hypnotic, long white corridors there's also some 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in there, and sometimes even a crisper, reverse sort of dystopic 1970's future of SOYLENT GREEN...

Meanwhile, the central locations have their own formidable aesthetic: the grey, dismally hard-edged skating rink; monstrously benign buildings with everything from offices to a library to a computer center; and the great outdoors held captive by human atrocity. But the main thing both ROLLERBALL and CLOCKWORK have in common is the lead character: while constantly surrounded by either friend, foe or something in-between, they're hopelessly alone. Only here, Caan doesn't break the law — he simply questions it. That is, when he's not playing ball.
Wide shot of the Tokyo Rollerball Rink
John Beck and James Caan facing one of the prettiest girls in the film...
Exploitation Cinema actress Nancy Bleier as an annoying polite librarian with no answers
At play, James Caan grabs the Rollerball and is ready to score
Beneath, the ROLLERBALL menu from the Twilight Time Blu Ray and above, John Beck giving a cocky grin while headed towards...
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