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World on a Wire
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World on a Wire is a gloriously paranoid, boundlessly inventive take on the future from German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder (The Marriage of Maria Braun). With dashes of Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick, as well as a flavor entirely his own, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of a reluctant action hero, Fred Stiller (The Odessa File’s Klaus Lowitsch), a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate conspiracy. At risk? (Virtual) reality as we know it. Originally made for German television, this recently rediscovered, three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses.
Fassbinder's "World on a Wire": Looking Ahead to Today, a 50-min documentary
New interview with German-film scholar Gerd Gemunden
New English subtitles
Trailer for the 2010 theatrical release
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Ed Halter
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Basically, it is a TV movie based on the early 1960s sci-fi short story by Daniel Galouye. It's about an engineer who is caught not only in an ethical dilemma on how his machine that mimics reality should be used (for the good of people or for corporate greed), but he debates whether he is in a fabricated reality or a real one. It is more, but I'm not going to ruin it.
The movie itself is an excellent adaptation of the novel MINUS the CGI effects (no flying cars, no futuristic city, no public-opinion polsters). It is made in similar style to Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," Godard's "Alphaville," and Barzyk's "The Lathe of Heaven" (or even, dare I say, "A Clockwork Orange"). Many sci-fi fanatics may find this problematic, but I love these movies because it makes them more "down to earth" and more human (for lack of a better word) and less "contrived" and/or reliant on special effects to tell the story.
The Criterion version has restored Fassbinder's movie, with not only an outstanding digital transfer, but "New English subtitles" (as stated on the back). I have only seen 1 scene in my life, and it was from a horrible copy! Fassbinder may not be a name associated with sci-fi, but the movie has all of his traits found in other movies he directed: muscular men of different races, overly made-up women with large, blond hair, and give-and-take dialogue. There's even a "Lili Marleen" bit! Equally masterful is his constant use of mirrors (or any reflective surfaces, such as water) and windows. It's fascinating to watch! It is also somewhat slow-paced (not as much as Angelopoulos), and this may tend to turn casual viewers off (I'm noting this, because reviews by other about slow-paced movies are negative because of pacing, and this is something that many viewers have overcome or need to overcome). I like slow-pace; It's not so slow that you are bored. The story carries well. Great use of music (Strauss, Greek folk, and Jazz/blues) and sound effects (screeches and such that heighten tension). Great use of art direction, colors, editing, cinematography, etc.
I watched this movie AFTER reading the story, and, even without the special effects, the movie is on-target with its adaptation (there is some added and some changed, but it works!). No pollsters, but Fassbinder molds the movie in such a way so that not having them doesn't really matter.
There is some female nudity, and, outside of the US or UK, this is normal for TV movies and foreign cinema - I am only noting this because the film has no rating on the cover!
There are some great features on the Criterion set, including "Making of..." documentary. I'm more of a Herzog fan, but I've been revisiting Fassbinder recently (next on list: "Berlin Alexanderplatz, which is also on Criterion and I have seen before). It is a 2-disc set. It's great to sit through the ending credits and chill to the soundtrack.
To repeat myself, it is probably NOT for the casual movie watcher. This is Fassbinder, and if you don't like slow pacing, early 70s cinema, or made-for-TV movies (it doesn't "feel" like one at all), this movie will probably disappoint. In my opinion, it is for those who study foreign cinema, and, especially, New German Cinema (this definitely fits the NGC German identity crisis philosophy), and, even more so, the cinema of Fassbinder.
Spin around in tandem on swivel chairs with a fellow viewer and enjoy! (It's a scene in the movie) ---- 5 stars for film, transfer, and DVD extras combined.
Even before the audience knows whats going on, Fassbinder is providing you with all the information you need to understand the situation. The minor characters all exibit blank stares, and appear oddly perfected in their clothing, make up and demenour in a way that's not fully human. Many dont blink. When not engaged with conversing with Stiller, they just stand there. This is true creativity, when the only special effect needed to show a person isnt real, is the acting. Also, the soundtrack drones in the backround constantly, usually trite 1930-1940s type movie composistions. Emotionally, the music is out of context with the lead character's situation, tho it helps immensely in providing a sense of falseness to the film. When the lead character discovers, or asks questions that fall outside the strange laws governing this odd world, the trite classical soundtrack becomes loud feedback, frightening and jarring for the audience. Eventually, as Stiller moves closer and closer to the truth, these harse soundtrack bursts of sound become more frequent. The first half of the film finishes on this bizaare note, like waking up screaming from a nightmare, as the soundtrack feedsback. Then there's a sharp cutaway to the end titles, while Fleetwood Mac's ALBATROSE song plays. Part two begins with Stiller's discovery that he lives in a computer program. He, and his entire world, isnt real. (The paralells to THE MATRIX are obvious.) What he discovered, was that even tho there are computer simulations "below" the level of reality of his computer world, there are also worlds "above" his world, until you finally come to our REAL world. The second part centers around Stiller's detective work, trying to discover how to break thru to reality. And one person in his circle of friends is real, and will help him attempt to escape the computer program.
If we treat the scifi elements as abstraction, then the film fits comfortably into the avant guard style so often found in Fassbinder's work. Much of Fassbinder's ironic tone derives from lifting Serk's Hollywood mainstream film noir/melodrama, and placing it over strange, modern situations. (Chinese Roulette worked that way, as did Bitter Tears.) I'm often surprised at how much Fassbiner reminds me of David Lynch, who also loves mystery, avant guard, scifi elements, and mixing the normal with the bizarre for ironic tonality. Both directors love to write their films, and both employ idiomatic cinematography to jar the viewer from complacenty. The Criterion edition is first rate, with an entire DVD and booklet devoted to deconstructing the work, and placing it in the larger context of Fassbinder's other films. Altho WORLD ON A WIRE is a bit slow paced, and even obvious, it doesnt detract. After you accept the seriousness of STILLER's quest to discover the dark secret of IKZ industries, then the movie will have hooked you in, as you wait for the plot to unfold. The lack of special effects to drive home the visual element of a future setting matter as little here, as they do in Tarkovsky's best Scifi work like STALKER or SOLARIS. The dialogue, music, and settings provide scifi cinema of the MIND, not scifi of CGI and special effects. In Conclusion: Fassbinder fans will LOVE the film, as will fans of Tarkovsky's scifi work.
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A dystopic science-fiction epic, World on a Wire is German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder's gloriously cracked, boundlessly inventive take on future...Read more
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