Rollerball (1973)

rollerball-poster_346962_48715This is the first Movietecture post I’ve done in ages, and all because on a recent rainy weekend afternoon, watching James Caan in the original Rollerball seemed the obvious way to spend a couple of hours…

The premise of the film is fairly straightforward. In 2018, after the world wars and the corporate wars, peace reigns across the planet, but at the cost of any sense of local or national level control. Individual countries have been replaced by six Corporations, with all decisions being taken by the Executives, a mysterious elite whose ulterior motives are only hinted at as the film progresses, but who very obviously fear the global rise in popularity of a single sportsman.

The aforementioned James Caan, or Jonathon E as he is known to his millions of fans, is the king of Rollerball, a sometimes violent global sport involving motorbikes, roller skates, studded leather gloves, helmets and a steel ball. A game whose rules are changed, seemingly at whim (and never in favour of the players) so increase the spectacle and continually raise the stakes.

4_cilindros_y_museo_BMW,_Múnich,_Alemania_2012-04-28,_DD_02 - CopyIt’s a very obvious take on the Roman system of “Circuses and Bread“, the sport keeps people happy and unquestioning, whilst the bread (in this case a tiny pill that seems to induce dewy eyes and slow dancing) keeps them pacified. Apart from its typically poor 70’s attitude to women, who seem to be there purely as toys for the boys, it’s a pretty stylish and enjoyable film, violent in parts undoubtedly, but it’s comic book in nature and pales against the stuff on TV today…

bmw-museum-8 - CopyAnyway, it was the use of the then recently completed BMW building in Munich, as the headquarters of the Energy Corporation that has prompted this post..

Designed by the Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer, and constructed between 1968 and 1972, the form of the building was intended to represent cylinders in an engine, whilst the adjacent museum, which also featured in the film but as a totally separate building, supposedly represents a cylinder head.

The large BMW badges at the top of the tower were removed for the film and replaced with the orange circles of the Energy Corporation, a move that echoed incidentally, the badges removal for the 1972 Munich Olympics, in compliance with the Olympic Committee’s rather draconian branding/sponsor rules.

Energy Corp

The filmmakers also made use of another Munich building, the Georg Flinkerbush designed and perfectly circular Olympic basketball stadium (now known as the Audi Dome) as the setting for the actual Rollerball games. The huge column free internal space was dressed differently to represent the Houston, Tokyo and New York matches that span the duration of the film, although to be honest, other than the different coloured T shirts in the audience, you’d be hard pressed to tell the differences, as regardless of where the match is being played, Houston’s name always appears first on the scoreboard…

Basketball_combinedTaking of T shirts, there are some fantastic graphics used throughout the film. The Rollerball font is now universally recognisable, but it’s the circular logo on the T shirts in the crowd that I think works really well…

rollerball T_orange

  1. Tim
    November 17, 2014 at 10:28

    I think the BMW building was also used in a sequence where Jessica Harper meets Udo Keir in Suspiria too.

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