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Multivision TV in action in Rollerball 


For those unable to attend the games themselves, the actions and reactions of the players, their collisions, scores and injuries, were brought to the home by Multivision. Realistically depicted as both a network and a broadcast system, Multivision employs one large television screen  surmounted by three smaller screens. This allows display of the same pictures on all four simultaneously or in relay, or entirely separate strands on each. Available in different sets of screen sizes, Multivision is seen installed in every room of the house, from kitchen to living room.


Multivision was an integral part of the fictional world that the film occupied and also directly supported the storyline, through for example the pivotal confrontation between Jonathan E (James Caan) and Mr Bartholomew (John Houseman) shown on this page. Interestingly, the standard 4:3 aspect ratio that then applied to televisions was used; the makers did not anticipate the move to widescreen. Multivision is though shown to be recordable, with all four screen views preserved just as in modern CCTV multiplex recording, and the small cassettes, akin to the compact (audio) cassette but anticipating Sony's 8mm format, erasable.


Rollerball games were staged solely to provide footage for the Multivision scenes, all of which which had to be edited, approved by Jewison and printed to 16mm film before production moved to England so that they could be projected into the mocked-up Multivision units built into the sets where most of the interiors were shot. The editing task required to deliver the Multivision scemes was considerable, therefore, and highly experienced British editor Brian Smedley-Aston was assigned the task as a kind of film-within-a-film, earning him a special on-screen credit.


The ingenious Multivision concept works as a remarkably convincing piece of futuristic entertainment technology.within Rollerball the game, Rollerball the film and the history of cinematography, being a version of the split-screen technique pioneered by Abel Gance’s Napoleon as far back as 1927.


The ability to believe now what hasn’t yet happened is down to designs on the future that work today.





Posted 7 January 2011; modifed in May 2012 to remove text and images relating to the Spinner from Blade Runner (a version of that material now appears elsewhere in Design), and again in June 2016 to link to the interview with Brian Smedley-Aston

Chris Rogers  |  Writer on architecture and visual culture

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