Posted: 03/23/2008

 

“High” Roller: The Bob Perry Story

(2004)

by Jef Burnham




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This surprisingly engrossing documentary about the extraordinary life of bowling champion Bob Purzycki shows how Purzycki went from bowling hopeful to homeless drug addict and back into the national championships. This fascinating film features lengthy interviews with Purzycki, his family and bowling friends, as well as tours of Purzycki’s old neighborhood and subsequent crack dens, to illustrate how miraculous it was that in 1997 Purzycki garnered the title of Super Bowl High Roller Champion.

Bob Pruzycki could have been the best bowler in the world. Early in his bowling career, he was amusingly named “Black Bowler of the Year,” having joined the blacks-only bowling league thanks to a loophole in their bylaws. Ultimately, drugs and alcohol, and a series of unfortunate accidents prevented him from achieving the high status he deserved. Purzycki predicts that the Bowling Hall of Fame in the State of New Jersey will never put him amongst their ranks as a result of his drug abuse, though his greatest success was realized post-recovery.

Purzycki’s tale is anything but average. Following the loss of sight in his left eye during a game of croquet as a boy, Purzycki was forced to re-teach himself to bowl. But this wasn’t the only tragedy he had to endure on the road to winning the 1997 tournament. He was molested by a neighbor as a child; and as an adult, he was hit by a cab that had approached from his blind side—an accident from which doctors predicted he would never walk again. Subsequently, he became addicted to Percodan, cocaine, and, whilst living on the streets of Manhattan for five years, crack. Later, he was also charged with extortion and racketeering in connection with the mob.

“High” Roller is definitely not the dull bowling documentary I had imagined. In fact, during its 62-minute running time, it never lost my interest. Purzycki is engaging and you really have to hear the story in his own words; and most of his anecdotes are told on location, adding visual interest to what would otherwise be monotonous talking head interviews. And the footage from the 1997 tournament in Las Vegas makes for a wonderfully triumphant climax that might just have you choked up.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.



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