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World on a Wire DVD

aka Welt Am Draht, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973

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Film Details

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Produced in 1973

Main Language - German with English subtitles

Countries & Regions - European Film, German Film

MovieMail's Review

A holy grail for fans of Fassbinder as well as intelligent science fiction, the restored World on a Wire is a wonderful rediscovery says Doug Cummings.

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.

on 8th April 2010
Author of 32 reviews

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Film Description

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's TV production, World on a Wire, is a science-fiction classic that explores the notion of a computer-generated other world, pre-dating The Matrix by 26 years. Since its original broadcast in 1973 it has rarely been shown and following increasing demand the Fassbinder Foundation have restored this remarkable film under the artistic direction of the film's highly acclaimed cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.

Simulacron 1 is a highly advanced project, designed to elevate conventional computer technology to a new level by creating a virtual reality inhabited by computer-generated people or 'identity units'. When the head of the project dies mysteriously after showing signs of mental disturbance, Dr Stiller becomes his successor. However, Stiller also begins to behave bizarrely. He speaks of people disappearing whom no one else knows, believes someone is trying to murder him and also has nausea attacks. As he begins to probe deeper into Simulacron, the line between the real and virtual world becomes increasingly blurred and his own existence is questioned.

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Publisher: Second Sight

Length: 204 mins

Aspect ratio: 4:3

Format: DVD Colour

Region: 2

Released: 17th May 2010

Cat No: 2NDVD3174

Subtitles: English

DVD Extras

  • 2 discs
  • Restored to pristine condition by the Fassbinder Foundation
  • World on a Wire: Looking Ahead to Today - a 49 minute documentary that takes a behind the scenes look at the restoration of the film, as well as talking to the co-script writer Fritz Müller-Scherz and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.

Film Stills

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