Rollerball (1975) Directed by Norman Jewison
Last week saw a couple of events which highlighted how cynical we have become towards Government. The 9th anniversary of 9/11 and the publication of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's autobiography. In his book Blair defends his reasons for committing Britain to the War In Iraq, yet a lot of the British public still think him a war criminal. Of course, the reason for the invasion, a supposed defense against WMD was never substantiated. Likewise, it seems an increasing amount of people are questioning the official version of events on 9/11. The invasion of Iraq has given people enough reason to doubt what they are being told and it has led to a general disenchantment of politics and old political systems. There is an air of conspiracy in these times we live in. We no longer seem to trust authority.
Rollerball, set in a not too distant future, pictures a cold society that is run and controlled by corporate companies. Imagine if you will Fox News Corporation governing our lives (not too hard to imagine). The corporations in Rollerball supply all the news, control all the information and tell us how to live and think. Jonathan E (James Caan) is a hero to the people as he is the star athlete of the ultra-violent Corporation controlled sport Rollerball, a cross between American Football, Rally Cross and Basketball. The Corporation have asked Jonathan E to retire from the sport as they see him as becoming too powerful and of setting too an individualistic example. Jonathan E refuses to retire from the sport leading to direct confrontation with The Corporation.
Rollerball is such a strange picture. Nothing really happens between the scenes where the sport dominates. It has a European art house cinema feel, cold and calculating. Colors are washed out till the games start, then they are super bright. Some amazing set design and exterior landscapes dominate the picture. It's all so subdued, dead pan and dry, there is no urgency, which helps the film and gives extra impact to the sport scenes. Chill factor is enhanced by the classical score of Bach's Toccata. The game itself disturbs with it's violence. We are reminded of Roman times and the gladiators of Circus Maximus.
Rollerball belongs with those other great conspiracy thrillers of the 70's All The President's Men and the Parallax View. These pictures share very similar moods and shared political attitudes. "Don't trust what the State is telling you" they scream. Reading more into this film than you should, you could take Rollerball as a warning for what could happen in the future. Or we could already be living that future.