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Film Details

Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Produced: 1973

Countries & Regions: Germany

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Studio: Second Sight

Length: 204 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 17 May 2010

Cat No: 2NDVD3174

Extras:
Languages(s): German
Subtitles: English
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World on a Wire

Cast: Gottfried John , Kurt Raab , Adrian Hoven , Klaus Lowitsch , Ulli Lommel , Wolfgang Schenck , Margit Carstensen , Guenther Lamprecht , Ivan Desny , Gunter Lamprecht , Joachim Hansen , Barbara Valentin , Karl Heinz Vosgerau , Mascha Rabben

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s two-part sci-fi classic, originally made for German television in 1973, posited the idea of a... Read More

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s two-part sci-fi classic, originally made for German television in 1973, posited the idea of a computer-generated world over a quarter of a century before the making of the Hollywood blockbuster ’The Matrix’. Simulacron 1 is the highly advanced project of a near-future cybernetics company. At the heart of the project is a supercomputer programmed to create a virtual world populated with computer-generated people known as ’identity units’. When the project’s leader has a mental breakdown and commits suicide, his successor, Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch), takes over. However, as he delves deeper into Simulacron, the line between the real world and its simulated counterpart becomes increasingly blurred, and before long he too is spiralling into madness.

Despite its popularity and influence, The Matrix (1999) was a flashy Hollywood spin on a cyberpunk literary genre rampant in the 1980s; and the idea of a computer-simulated reality indistinguishable from the world of its creators runs even further back in both film and print, as exemplified by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s brilliant 1973 World on a Wire (his close adaptation of Daniel Galouye’s 1964 novel, Counterfeit World).

Originally produced for German TV in two parts, the broadcast fell into obscurity and remained a holy grail for fans of intelligent science fiction as well as Fassbinder’s lively but tragically abbreviated career. Rediscovered and restored, the film’s world premiere was a highpoint for many critics at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

In the near future, a cybernetic company designs a supercomputer that simulates a world populated with “identity units” programmed with artificial intelligence that will predict human behavior in the real world. When the lead designer commits suicide under mysterious circumstances, his successor, Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch), takes on the job, but soon faces his own mental breakdown when strange events and logical inconsistencies begin to haunt him. Is the stress and psychological nuance (intensified when his employer flirts with covert interests) taking its toll, or is he on the verge of a deeper and more unsettling discovery?

Captured by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (later renowned for his work with Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese) during a period when Fassbinder’s visual expressionism supercharged The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) and Fear Eats the Soul (1974), the film explores the line between reality and illusion. Its intricate compositions are structured around glass and reflections that evoke a perceptual hall of mirrors. Its energetic camera movements and constant play with interior spaces (wide angled lenses and subtle shifts in lighting) suggest that Fassbinder enjoyed a great deal of freedom and experimentation with the production.

Lowitsch’s subdued virility and earnest world-weariness—a quasi-noir heroism intensified by his fondness for a fedora—expresses the kind of masculine charm of Jack Nicholson or Harrison Ford in their prime, and the film’s roster of overdressed extras, eccentric femme fatales, and sexy nightclubs would be standard elements of the cyberpunk genre years later.

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