Roller­ball 1975

Australian HIFI - - BLUE-RAYS REVIEW -

Di­rec­tor: Nor­man Jewi­son Star­ring: James Caan, John House­man, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, Pamela Hens­ley and Bar­bara Tren­tham.

It was 1970: My grand­mother gives me a ‘Mu­sic for Plea­sure’ al­bum— Carl Wein­rich play­ing Bach on the pipe or­gan—say­ing it was ‘too heavy’ for her. It’s ti­tled ‘Toc­cata & Fugue in D mi­nor’. Of course. Over the years I end up buy­ing half a dozen dif­fer­ent pipe or­gan record­ings in the process of seek­ing a truly sat­is­fy­ing ver­sion of ‘Pas­sacaglia & Fugue in C mi­nor.’ Most of them also have the Toc­cata. Of course.

Even be­fore 1975, the Toc­cata & Fugue in D mi­nor was Bach’s most well-known or­gan work. That’s what be­ing in ‘Fan­ta­sia’ can do. But that didn’t di­min­ish the thrill when I sat my­self in the cinema in 1975 or 1976 and ‘Roller­ball’ com­menced, un­ex­pect­edly, with the fa­mil­iar flour­ish over a black screen. And it wasn’t just a taste. The whole Toc­cata sec­tion is com­pleted, tak­ing nearly three min­utes, with only a lit­tle back­ground au­dio from the events on screen bleed­ing in to­wards the end.

Fully aware of my bias on mat­ters Bach, I thought I should re­visit this movie once I be­came aware that it was out on Blu-ray. The au­dio is pre­sented in 24-bit, 5.1-chan­nel DTS-HD Master Au­dio (i.e. loss­lessly com­pressed) as well as 24-bit stereo LPCM. Is there any sur­round? Even though the movie was re­leased in four-chan­nel sound, and six chan­nels on 70mm print, in those pre-‘Star Wars’ days the chan­nels were all at the front to allow for sound steer­ing. The movie 5.1 just gets a lit­tle bleed into the rear chan­nels, but at times it does get some sur­pris­ing di­a­logue steer­ing across the front sound stage, some­thing that has largely gone out of fash­ion in re­cent decades.

The com­poser for the movie was An­dré Previn. He also man­aged to sneak in a lit­tle Shostakovich and a touch of Tchaikovsky, while us­ing the Al­bi­noni Ada­gio as a theme for lost love.

The movie? Ah, yes, one of the bet­ter ex­am­ples of that mid-1970s fas­ci­na­tion with dystopian fu­tures. In this case the na­tion state has with­ered and been re­placed by cor­po­ra­tions, com­plete with ter­ri­to­rial dom­i­na­tion and cor­po­rate an­thems. A bru­tal roller-skates and mo­tor­bike game acts as a Ro­man cir­cus to keep the pop­u­la­tion amused and placid. But James Caan has been a star for too long. One man can’t be more im­por­tant than the game but he re­fuses to re­tire. So the rules must be changed. There are in­ter­est­ing themes and a Euro­pean in­flu­ence to the look. Of course the fu­ture en­vis­aged in 1975 is ter­ri­bly anachro­nis­tic. A card at the end of the movie says: ‘Our thanks to . . . SPERRY UNIVAC for com­puter equip­ment.’ Caan, seek­ing answers at one point, trav­els to Geneva so he can ask ‘the’ com­puter.

But for me, even if the movie were ter­ri­ble, it’d all be worth it for those open­ing min­utes.

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