World On A Wire (1973)
Starring: Klaus Lowitsch
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
4 out of 5
Originally airing on German television as a two-part miniseries, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire is a complex piece of European futurism, serving as a precursor to such tantalizing creations as Inception and The Matrix. The Criterion Collection’s beautiful transfer is an expansive three-and-a-half-hour spectacle of conspiracy and cybernetics – a broad vision that will appease many Sci-fi connoisseurs.
Based on Daniel F. Galouye’s novel, World on a Wire is doused with art house flourishes, relying on paranoia rather than punchy explosions and pyrotechnics. Certain pessimism pervades throughout, with Fassbinder choosing to critique a world of detachment rather than revel in a screenplay of clichés.
The main star, Klaus Löwitsch, plays Fred Stiller, an engineer working on software called Simulacron: a virtual reality universe inhabited by roughly 8,000 identity units. The units in question live as human beings, unaware that they are living fabricated realities. Things begin to unravel when Professor Henry Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) unearths a secret, which may or may not be the catalyst to his mysterious demise.
As Vollmer’s successor, Stiller seeks the truth, leading him to infiltrate the labyrinth that is Simulacron, dodging assassination attempts while balancing romantic interludes.
Made at age 27, Fassbinder’s World on a Wire remains his only foray into science fiction. Filmed on 16mm, and in just 44 days, the clinical atmospherics he’s created are not unlike something Kubrick or Tarkovskiy could have envisioned. While it may be one of his more obscure efforts, it’s certainly one of his most audacious and otherworldly.
Special Features: Various, in-depth interviews include one with cinematographer Ballhaus, co-writer Fritz Müller-Scherz, and actor Karl-Heinz Vosgerau. Candidly, Müller-Scherz recalls memories of writing the script with Fassbinder on weekends spent in Paris, as well as their interpretation of the written source. Also included are two great documentaries “Fassbinder’s World on a Wire: Looking Ahead to Today,” a making-of documentary produced by Juliane Lorenz, onetime editor – now head of the Fassbinder Foundation. The other involves German film scholar, Gerd Gemünden, as he lays out the thematic and stylistic similarities between World on a Wire and the rest of Fassbinder’s filmography, particularly paying attention to his fascinating use of wall-to-wall of mirrors.
Overall: A dynamic and cerebral Sci-fi thinker, packed with intriguing ideas and soaked in a moody ambience. A welcomed addition to the German director’s already prolific output.
Rent or Buy: Buy…if you are into mind-bending cinema.