Posts Tagged ‘World On A Wire’

DVD Geek: World on a Wire

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Back in 1973, when science fiction movies were awful, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made his only foray into the genre, a two-part 212-minute television miniseries, World on a Wire, which was broadcast twice in Germany and then largely forgotten until it was restored as part of a general interest in Fassbinder’s legacy, and has been released on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.  Not only does the program turn out to be an outstanding accomplishment for its day and a still very rare example of a successful adaptation of a science-fiction novel to film, but its relevance has not diminished in the slightest over the ensuing decades.  Way, way before The Matrix, before Blade Runner and before umpteen Japanese anime tales, Fassbinder not only understood the epistemological paradoxes of cyberworlds, he understood how to communicate those paradoxes to viewers in an entertaining and engrossing manner.  The film has almost no special effects, and conveys its fantasies through conversations, ideas and dramatic conflict, which are staged with Fassbinder’s prodigious sense of cinematic design.  Filled with mirrors and with the camera often rotating in circles upon circles, the film is not only aesthetically captivating, it has a fully accessible narrative and a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.

Based upon a novel by Daniel F. Galouye, which also served as the source for the under-appreciated 1999 feature, The Thirteenth Floor, Klaus Löwitsch stars as a scientist involved in a partially government-funded project to create a fully functioning virtual world, so that various economic and social trends can be accelerated for the sake of prediction (with private manufacturers bribing project officials to obtain marketing tips).  Glitches begin to occur, however, and soon the hero, who looks very much like David Janssen in The Fugitive, is on the run for the supposed murder of his supervisor.  At the same time, he discovers that characters within the virtual world may have become independently cognizant of their situation, and that on another meta-level, he himself may be simply a virtual character in a greater cyberscape. 

Fassbinder balances the ambiguities and the complexities of the premise with camera movements and character blocking that are themselves metaphorical.  When a character walks behind a partition, he ‘disappears’ and when he ‘reappears’ as the camera circles around and catches him strolling in a different part of the room, is it really the same person, has he been replaced, or has the whole setting been readjusted while he was absent from view?  Which side of the mirror is the reflection and which is the original?  The film constantly taunts a viewer’s presumptions about the realities of what is being observed, and goes around and around with its teases.  The women in the film are all dressed in an ever so slightly exaggerated manner, as if their outfits had not been chosen by the feminine tastes of the characters themselves but were instead the attempt of unseen geeky code writers to replicate what they thought the women should be wearing.  Many of the characters, especially the secondary characters, act stiffly, as they do in other Fassbinder films, but here their inertia can immediately be interpreted as insufficient programming.  Even the appearance of many wonderful German actors in cameo parts—readily calling forth allusions to Alphaville, Eddie Constantine also shows up briefly—and the film’s use of so many of Fassbinder’s ensemble favorites, creates distinctive parallels between the film’s virtual worlds and the film itself as a virtual world.  Meanwhile, in America, the best science fiction, if you can even call it such, that anybody could come up with at the time was Zardoz.  In comparison, World on a Wire is a genuine film of the future, in the very best sense, and between the intricacies of its story and the infinite discoveries within Fassbinder’s style, now that the film has been resurrected, it will captivate viewers for decades to come.

The full screen picture looks as good as can be expected, with some sequences appearing smooth and slick, while others, although bright and sharp, still seeming a little aged or vaguely compromised.  Considering the source, it is clear that the presentation is as good as it is going to get.  The monophonic sound has noise in some sequences—as if the more times the action within the film has been replicated, the more it has begun to degrade—but is mixed with a strong sense of purpose and is worth amplifying.  The show is in German with English subtitles and comes with a trailer and two excellent retrospective pieces that analyze the film and explain how it all came together, running a total of 85 minutes.

Trailering Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

This will have to count toward the 20 or 40 or more movies that were lost to cocaine and pills and Jack Daniels almost 29 years ago this month… Opening around the country this summer. Dennis Lim talks to Fassbinder’s collaborators on the film. Criterion unearths a late-in-life “10 Favorite Films” List From Mr. Fassbinder.

Postering Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Great, Restored World On A Wire

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Postering Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Great, Restored World On A Wire