Thursday, 24 February 2011

Chris Port Blog #106. “The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort…”

Great film text to rhizome with Marty Gull

Rollerball (the 1975 original, not the trivial ‘Die Hard’ McTiernan remake in 2002).  Probably the best dystopian sport sci-fi ever made. It’s prediction of national fragmentation into corporate dictatorship was pretty spot on. If anything, it was too optimistic. At least the fictional corporations offer placid contentment in return for mindless subservience. In reality, the multinational dictatorships have made us destitute…

It’s 2018. Nations have been replaced by corporations. After the terrible ‘corporate wars’, society has been purged of poverty and crime. Corporations now regulate every aspect of people’s lives. In return for accepting the dominance of management, all material needs are met. The potential frustration and violence of the mob is discharged through the outlet of sport - a modern Circus Maximus - a brutal game called Rollerball. Rollerball is a high-velocity mash-up of American Football, hockey, roller derby and motor-cross racing. Different teams are sponsored by different corporations, each with their own ‘corporate anthem’, and is televised worldwide.

The game is brutal for a reason. It is designed to destroy individuality, to show that no player is greater than the game itself. ‘It’s not a game a man is supposed to grow strong in…’ But one man does become strong in the game.

Jonathan E. is a sports superstar, adored worldwide. He devotes himself to the game and excels at it. Management become concerned. They fear his popularity is sending out the wrong message – that a man can be greater than the game. They pressure him to retire. ‘Stupid game, after all. Awful game. You ought to be glad to be out of it.’

But Jonathan has nothing else. His wife was taken from him by an executive. All he has now is his team mates. To pressure him further, management start to make the game more violent. Jonathan begins to question management decisions. Who makes them? How are they made? Eventually, he plays in a game where there are no rules at all…

James Caan is suitably wooden but vulnerable as the man of action starting to exercise his mind and question his life. John Houseman is always good value for money, and is on chilling top form as the ruthlessly reasonable executive Mr Bartholomew. The failings of information technology and the dissipation of knowledge into the internet are wittily predicted too. Excellent action sequences without the remake’s frenetic pansy-costumed poofery. This game looks horribly realistic and plausible. That’s because the star and the stuntmen got into it. They started playing the game for real on set, making up the rules as they went along…

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MR BARTHOLOMEW: Sweet dreams, Moonpie. It's a bad habit you got there. You know what that habit will make you dream, Moonpie? You'll dream you're an executive. You'll have your hands on all the controls, and you'll wear a grey suit, and you'll make decisions. But you know what, Moonpie? You know what those executives dream about, out there behind their desks? They dream they're great rollerballers. They dream they're Jonathan. They have muscles. They bash in faces.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MR BARTHOLOMEW: You know how the game serves us. It has a definite social purpose. Nations are bankrupt, gone. None of that tribal warfare any more. Even the corporate wars are a thing of the past.

JONATHAN E: I know that...

MR BARTHOLOMEW: So now we have the majors and their executives. Transport, food, communication, housing, luxury, energy. A few of us making decisions on a global basis for the common good.

JONATHAN E: The team is a unit. It plays with certain rhythms.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: So does an executive team, Jonathan. Now everyone has all the comforts, you know that. No poverty, no sickness. No needs and many luxuries, which you enjoy just as if you were in the executive class. Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it has ever asked of anyone ever, is not to interfere with management decisions.

JONATHAN E: I don't mean to resist. I'm just tryin' to understand.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: This is for your own benefit. You must know that, Jonathan. All decisions concerning you are.

JONATHAN E: Well, I lost Ella. They took my wife because an executive wanted her.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: I won't review all that again. That was before I took over. I had nothing to do with it. From what I hear your wife wanted to leave herself. So, now you're going to retire. That shouldn't be too hard for you. Stupid game, after all. Awful game. You ought to be glad to be out of it.

JONATHAN E: I don’t... I don’t know, Mr Bartholomew. I just don’t know. I realise you had nothing to do with Ella.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: - Jonathan, I...

JONATHAN E: - But... You're right. I mean, I oughta do... - I oughta be happy to do what you say.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: - Take your time. Take a few days. You've just come through a game. You're tired. Go to your ranch, but think about it. And understand it.  Do understand it. Because I don't understand your resistance. And I don't think anyone else will either.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MR BARTHOLOMEW: You know I’ve always considered your situation, Jonathan, and your needs. Now you have to consider mine - and ours.

JONATHAN E: - I'm considering it, Mr Bartholomew.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: No player is greater than the game itself. It’s a significant game in a number of ways. The velocities of the ball, the awful physics of the track. And in the middle of it all, men playing by an odd set of rules. It’s not a game a man is supposed to grow strong in, Jonathan. - You appreciate that, don't you?

JONATHAN E: - More and more, Mr Bartholomew.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: You must take good advice. You're not to play against Tokyo. You're not to play again.

JONATHAN E: - I want some concessions.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: - Concessions? Believe me, I'd be happy to talk a deal, Jonathan. I love deals. But this situation is much, much simpler. This Multivision event tonight was very embarrassing. For me and for others.

JONATHAN E: It might be I won’t ever find out why I’ve been asked to leave the game, but I do know I can get some concessions and I want ‘em. I wanna see Ella - my wife. Arrange it so I can see her again.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: That’s not easy, Jonathan.

JONATHAN E: I want other concessions, too, Mr Bartholomew.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: Specifically, you’re bargaining for the right to stay in a horrible social spectacle. It has its purposes. You’ve served those purposes brilliantly. Why argue when you can quit? And you say you want to know why decisions are made. Your future comfort is assured. You don’t need to know. Why argue about decisions you’re not powerful enough to make for yourself? Energy will treat you well, you know that.

JONATHAN E: If the rule changes stay, Mr Bartholomew, I'm playin’ with my team.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: Too late. The rule change is scheduled and announced. There's no going back. You’ve seen to that.

JONATHAN E: I’ll see you in Tokyo.

MR BARTHOLOMEW: You can be made to quit! You can be forced!

JONATHAN E: You can’t make me quit!

MR BARTHOLOMEW: Don’t tell me I can’t. Don’t ever say that! I can! You can be stopped!

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MR BARTHOLOMEW: Corporate society was an inevitable destiny, a material dream world. Everything man touched became attainable.

JONATHAN E: I've been touched all my life, one way or the other. Either caressed or hit. Don’t much seem to matter which any more.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

DOCTOR: You must sign. There are rules.

JONATHAN E: No there aren’t. There aren’t any rules at all.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MR BARTHOLOMEW: In my opinion we are confronted here with something of a situation. Otherwise I would not have presumed to take up your time. Once again it concerns the case of Jonathan E. We don’t want anything extraordinary to happen to Jonathan. We’ve already agreed on that. No accidents, nothing unnatural. The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort. Let the game do its work. The Energy Corporation has done all it can. If a champion defeats the meaning for which the game was designed, then he must lose. I hope you agree with my reasoning. Thank you all.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

LIBRARIAN: Not many people come to see us, you know. We’re not easy to talk to, Zero and I. We’re a little confused again here today. This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.

JONATHAN E: You’ve misplaced some data?

LIBRARIAN: Mm, the whole of the fourteenth century. Misplaced the computers - several conventional computers. We can’t find them. We’re always moving things around, getting organised, my assistants and I. But this is Zero’s fault. Zero, he’s the world’s file cabinet. Pity. Poor old fourteenth century. Well, come along now. You want to get started, don't you?

JONATHAN E: Yes, sir.

LIBRARIAN: This way. Now... We've lost those computers with all of the fourteenth century in them. Not much in the century -just Dante and a few corrupt popes. But it’s so distracting and annoying. You’ve unlimited restrictions here, of course, but you’ll have to come so, so many times. It all takes such effort.

JONATHAN E: Do the executives still come here?

LIBRARIAN: Oh, they used to, some of them.

JONATHAN E: - What about the books?

LIBRARIAN: - Books, books? They're all changed. All transcribed. All information is here. We’ve Zero, of course. He’s the central brain, the world’s brain. Fluid mechanics, fluidics. He’s liquid, you see. His waters touch all knowledge. Everything we ask has become so complicated now. Each thing we ask... This morning we wanted to know about the fourteenth century. He flows out into all our storage systems. He considers everything. He’s become so ambiguous now, as if he knows nothing at all.

JONATHAN E: Could you tell me about the corporate wars?

LIBRARIAN: Wars, wars? Oh, yes, of course, we have them all here. Punic War, Prussian War, Peloponnesian War. Crimean War, Wars of the Roses. One doesn’t recall them in sequence, but corporate wars... Well, Zero will or can, I’m sure, tell you anything. A memory pool, you see. He's supposed to tell us where things are and what they might possibly mean. Look, Zero. A visitor. Jonathan E, the rollerball champion. You’ve filed away a lot of data on him. Do you remember?

JONATHAN E: - Does it answer you?

LIBRARIAN: - Oh, yes, it speaks. It finds things and loses them and confuses itself. Ask anything, he’ll find it for you, section and lot. Won’t you, Zero?

JONATHAN E: All right. I'd like... I’d like some information about corporate decisions. How they’re made and who makes them.

LIBRARIAN: Zero, you heard the question. Answer him.

ZERO: Negative.

LIBRARIAN: You don’t have to give him a full political briefing. - Answer.

ZERO: - Negative.

LIBRARIAN: This is Jonathan E. He has to know. Make it simple. Answer.

ZERO: Corporate decisions are made by corporate executives. - Corporate executives make...

LIBRARIAN: - I know we have the answers.

ZERO: Knowledge converts to power. Energy equals genius. - Power is knowledge.

LIBRARIAN: - I don't want to bully you.

ZERO: Genius is energy. - Corporate entities control elements...

LIBRARIAN: - But you have to answer!

ZERO: ..of economic life, technology, capital, labour and markets. Corporate decisions are made by...

LIBRARIAN: - You have to, Zero!

ZERO: - ..corporate executives.

LIBRARIAN: The fourteenth century...

ZERO: - Negative, negative, negative...

LIBRARIAN: - It’s so embarrassing!

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

ELLA: You know, Johnny, all they want is a kind of incidental control over just a part of our lives. They have control economically and politically, but they also provide.

JONATHAN E: Provide, huh?

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JONATHAN E: I’ve been thinkin’, Ella. Thinkin’ a lot. I've been watching. It’s like people had a choice a long time ago between... well, having all them nice things or freedom. Of course, they chose comfort.

ELLA: But comfort is freedom. It always has been. The history of civilisation is the struggle against poverty.

JONATHAN E: No! No, that’s not it. That's never been it. I mean, them privileges just buy us off.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

JONATHAN E: I wanted you on my side, that's all.

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Rollerball (1975) Full Movie

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