‘It was never meant to be a game’: my monograph on Norman Jewison’s Rollerball

I have been pre-occupied with my Phd and various other commitments, so I’ve been a little bit slow off the mark to publicise my latest book, a monograph on Norman Jewison’s 1975 dystopian science fiction classic, Rollerball, out now on various platforms in the US, UK and Australia, through Auteur Publishing.

The book originated out of my curiosity to see whether I had it in me to write 40k based on a single film. The film I chose, in consultation with the publisher, was Rollerball. Only you can be the judge as to how good a job I have done, but I’ll let you all in on the first rule of writing a film monograph, make sure you like the film because you not only have to watch it numerous times but immerse yourself in everything to do with it.

I have always like Rollerball, ever since first seeing it twenty years ago. But I didn’t realise until I got stuck into researching the film for this book, just what a good viewing experience it still is and what a chilling dystopian vision it remains.

Rollerball depicts a future dominated by anonymous corporations and their executive elite, in which all individual effort and aggressive emotions are subsumed into a horrifically violent global sport, remains critically overlooked. What little has been written deals mainly with its place within the renaissance of Anglo-American science fiction cinema in the 1970s, or focuses on the elaborately shot, still visceral to watch, game sequences, so realistic they briefly gave rise to speculation the game of Rollerball may become an actual sport.

The book draws on numerous sources, including little examined documents in the archive of the film’s screenwriter William Harrison, held at the University of Arkansas. I look at the various aspects of Rollerball’s making, including the elaborate and painstaking process of world creation undertaken by Jewison and Harrison, and discuss the film in the context of other ‘murder game’ films, from Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (1965) to the Hunger Games cycle of movies. In the process, I also examine the various cultural debates that influenced Harrison and Jewison, everything from concerns around growing corporate power and to violence in Western society in late 1960s and early 1970s.

The book ends with an interview with film maker, Norman Jewison.

I hope you enjoy it. You can buy the book at the following sites:

Columbia University Press

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Book Depository

Dymocks online

Amazon Australia

Angus and Robertson

Image: The image used for the publication of Rollerball Murder, the short story by William Harrison, that served as the basis for the film. Source: Literary Cavalcade, November, 1975.


2 Responses

  1. It’s a great read – I heartily recommend it to all Pulp Curry fans.

  2. David N. Pepperell

    Rollerball was a marvellous film with the usual visceral performance from Jimmy Caan, similar to his appearance in Thief. I always think he has been underappreciated for his ability to play the sensitive meatball over the years although his stellar acting in The Godfather brought him to the attention of many. I saw Rollerball when it came out – on the big screen where it belonged – and I found it moving, prescient and disturbing. Really only a return to the Roman Games of the Caesars it does ask the question have we regressed to such an attitude of callousness towards life that existed in Roman Times. Now we have the horror of UFC on us one has to accept that we have! It seems there is no end to the bloodlust of the human race. Maybe the anthropoligist who said we are descended from a tribe of killer apes – was it Konrad Lorenz – was on the money! Never read the short story – will have to try and find it.

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