There’s regularly talk about pieces of cinema and television that were influential on what preceded them but it’s particularly evident that Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire (Welt am Draht) is out there in front with its futuristic ideas and philosophies both in visuals and narrative. Whilst undoubtedly being way ahead of its time, 45 years later since its release in 1973, this dystopian sci-fi epic, weighing in over 3 hours, is initially something for those with a distinct taste in style and pacing but once you get past the opening strangeness of everything, which in retrospect is hugely creative, you’ll encounter themes of the future that you might be accustomed to but, for a moment, consider a world without the likes of Blade Runner, Westworld or even The Matrix, because it’s all here in World on a Wire.
Laced with suggestion and misdirection, including the now worryingly normal suspicion over technology and its place in human existence, World on a Wire tells the somewhat noir-like story of Dr Fred Stiller (brilliantly portrayed by Klaus Löwitsch), a Scientist cybernetics expert who begins to uncover an enormous corporate and government conspiracy, which all comes down to the nature of reality itself. Beneath that veil of treachery, we’re party to feeling the tentacles of doubt that linger throughout the introductory segments, like some dark creature hiding in the shadows, away from the shiny surfaces and perfect existence we seemingly see before us.
Fred Stiller is the centre of everything, along with ‘Simulcron 1’, a computer-created project that’s made a virtual reality world which they control. Within that produced code are computer generated human beings or, as they call them, identity units. Without giving more spoilers away about ‘why’, it’s actually a really unique take on the uses of virtual reality and not one I’ve seen before, even with all the influence that stems from it. Again, as mentioned earlier, from here Dr Stiller is gradually embroiled into a mystery as he delves deeper into finding the truth, and we’re with him discovering it all himself, including the world he lives in as events becomes a surreal, amalgamation of intrigue and suspicion.
Quite remarkably, this was originally made in two parts for television and it’s beyond radical and inventive, if you compare it to anything on TV in that era. Fassbinder’s work isn’t just clever in the story, every shot is purposeful and specifically setup to work a certain way. There’s undoubtedly a cross-over of art-house and science fiction, plus that essence of noir/thriller, and that’s where the Blade Runner similarities certainly come forth, even in the physical appearance of Löwitsch’s Stiller and his Harrison Ford-detective-like commitment to unravelling whatever he sees going on before him, it’s expertly played out by the actor throughout, he’s 100% committed to both the serious nature of events and the confusion, couple that with what constitutes a nervous breakdown due to the unknown nature of his own reality, he really is exceptional.
Stylistically, it’s beautifully played out as a futuristic world with a sense of 2001: A Space Odyssey counteracting with clean-cut ultramodern offices, reflective surfaces with smart one shot scenes, video calls and even the phone connection we see in The Matrix. I’d find it hard to think these things aren’t a direct influence in World on a Wire, or it’s a beautiful coincidence if not. So when you’re here, you’ll be experience worlds within worlds, ingenious shot setups, original cinematography and wide establishing office shots with huge scope and possibility beyond. This restoration has been supervised by The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and you can see everything is perceptively re-constructed.
Both significant and mysterious in all its sci-fi intentions, World on a Wire isn’t an easy journey in the early stages, the slow pace in a modern era is distracting (has everything been made quicker to reflect modern reality?) but it doesn’t take away from the remaining series which, again quite ironically, becomes the ultimate binge watch because you need to know how it all ends in Fassbinder’s astonishing labyrinth of discovery.
World on a Wire: The Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set from Second Sight is out now.
Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2XgKnXF
- No Strings Attached – an interview with assistant director Renate Leiffer
- Observing Fassbinder – a tribute to photographer Peter Gauhe
- Looking Ahead to Today documentary
- On-set featurette
- Original Broadcast Recap
- The Simulation Argument – an interview with Professor Nick Bostrom
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- Rigid slipcase packaging
- 50-page perfect-bound booklet featuring new essays by Anton Bitel and Daniel Bird, archival writing by Daniel Oberhaus and Christian Braad Thomsen, stills and rare on-set photos by Peter Gauhe