“World on a Wire” is a must-buy Rainer Werner Fassbinder DVD release from the Criterion Collection! No need for big budget special effects, this 1973 TV film relied on structure, character development, wonderful cinematography and clever editing and in the end, Fassbinder was successful. “World on a Wire” is highly recommended!
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TITLE: World on a Wire – The Criterion Collection #598
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1973
DURATION: 212 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural in German with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: February 21, 2012
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Based on the novel “Simulacron-3″ by Daniel F. Galouye
Written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Fritz Muller-Scherz
Produced by Peter Marthesheimer, Alexander Wesemann
Music by Gottfried Hungsberg
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, Ulrich Prinz
Edited by Ursula Elles, Marie Anne Gerhardt
Production Design by Horst Giese, Walter Koch, Kurt Raab
Costume Design by Gabriele Pillon
Klaus Lowitsch as Fred Stiller
Barbara Valentin as Gloria Fromm
Mascha Rabben as Eva Vollmer
Karl Heinz Vosgerau as Herbert Siskins
Wolfgang Schenck as Franz Hahn
Gunter Lamprecht as Fritz Walfang
Ulli Lommel as Rupp, Journalist
Adrian Hoven as Professor Henry Vollmer
Ivan Desny as Gunther Lause
Joachim Hansen as Hans Edelkern
Kurt Raab as Mark Holm
Margit Carstensen as Maya Schmidt-Gentner
Ingrid Caven as Uschi, secretary
Gottfried John as Einstein
Rudolf Lenz as Hartmann
Rainer Hauer as Inspector Lehner
World on a Wire is a gloriously paranoid, boundlessly inventive take on the future from German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With dashes of Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of reluctant hero Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), 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 Originally made for German television, this recently rediscovered, three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses.
In 1973, auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”, “Lili Marleen”, “The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok”) created his first sci-fi film “Welt am Draht” (World on a Wire) which aired on German television.
A common practice at the time for German filmmakers was to have a theatrical production which was then shown on television at a later time. But for Fassbinder, he created several films for television due to him wanting his work to gain popularity in Germany and the fact that there were not as many places to view cinema in Germany at that time.
The film was broken down to two parts and was an adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s novel “Simulacron-3″.
“World on a Wire” featured a screenplay adaptation co-written by Fritz Muller-Scherz (“Fiorile”, “Belle’s Paradise”), cinematography by Michael Ballhaus (“The Departed”, “Goodfellas”, “Gangs of New York”, “Dracula”) and Ulrich Prinz (“Martha”, “Fear of Fear”) and music by Gottfried Hunsberg (“La Paloma”, “Shadow of Angels”).
The film would star Klaus Lowitsch (“The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “Cross of Iron”, “Das Urteil”) as the main protagonist, Fred Stiller. The film would star actress Barbara Valentin (“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”, “Martha”), Karl Heinz Vosgerau (“The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”, “Knife in the Back”), Wolfgang Schenk (“Martha”, “Effi Briest”) and Gunter Lamprecht (“Berlin Alexanderplatz”, “The Harmonists”, “Das Boot”, “The Marriage of Maria Braun”).
While the film was enjoyed by those who watched it in Germany when it first aired or those who were able to find it digitally, the film was unlike Fassbinder’s other films in the fact that it was a sci-fi film but it was also a television film that had been forgotten for decades, due to the fact that it was not featured on VHS or DVD. Also, it was a film that Fassbinder himself, never really discussed much about when he was alive.
But the “World on a Wire” has been a film that received a cult following and fans acknowledge the fact that the film predates virtual reality and technology before there were films such as “The Matrix”, “Avatar” and “Blade Runner”. In 1999, a loosely-based American adaptation of “Simulacron-3″ was created and was titled “The Thirteenth Floor”.
While “World on a Wired” was screened at a film festival in 1992 as a 10-year anniversary film retrospective for the late Fassbinder, the film would receive a complete restoration in 2010 for the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and various theaters around the world.
And now the film makes its Blu-ray and DVD debut in North America courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
“World on a Wire” takes place at a cybernetics institute known as IKZ (“Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung”), and are known for creating a virtual reality simulation program on a supercomputer that has created an artificial world with around 9,000 “identity units” (that resemble human beings) who are unaware that they are virtual beings, nor are they aware that the world they live in is a simulacron.
But one day, the technical director, Professor Henry Vollmer (played by Adrian Hoven) has discovered something shocking. A secret that has made him agitated and also making him appear “crazy” or “mentally unstable”.
While losing it at a meeting with IKZ execs, he manages to tell IKZ security adviser, Gunther Lause (played by Ivan Desny) about his secret discovery and next thing you know, he goes crazy and moments later, he is found dead by Lause.
At a party, Lause meets with Fred Stiller (played by Klaus Lowitsch), the successor to Professor Vollmer. As the two discuss about a great discovery made by Vollmer, as Lause was about to tell him what Vollmer found, a woman distracts Stiller and when Stiller turns around, Lause is gone.
This rattles Stiller, and when he goes back to discuss this with others at IKZ, no one knows what he is talking about. He tells them about meeting with the security adviser Gunther Lause, but is told that there is no Lause working for them and another man is security adviser. Because no one has recollection of Gunther Lause, he begins his own investigation. Also, the local press, including a journalist named Rupp (played by Ulli Lommel) is doing his research on IKZ and what they are trying to accomplish with this new virtual technology.
Meanwhile, an identity unit in the simulacron has attempted suicide and the unit is later deleted by Stiller’s colleague Fritz Walfang (played by Gunter Lamprecht). Stiller wants to know what is going on and so he uses the virtual technology to allow himself to go into the simulacron and encounter a unit named Einstein (the only unit in the simulation who is aware that the world he lives in is not real).
Einstein tries to plead with Stiller to take him into his world, but Stiller tells him that it’s impossible.
But as more and more people that Stiller comes in contact with, begin to disappear, he also begins to show signs of agitation and those around him think he’s starting to lose it.
One day, while having lunch with Walfang, something unusual takes place and Stiller finds out that Einstein from the simulacron has found a way to transfer his body with Walfang who has visited the simulacron. This is supposed to be impossible but Einstein tells him that perhaps the world that Stiller lives in, is not real. While Einstein is from a simulacron created by those of another simulacron, the next level up would be the real world.
And the more that Stiller begins to think about this, and all the unexplained disappearances and situations that have happen thus far, he wonders to himself, “What if Einstein is telling the truth?”. What if the world that he lives in is also a simulacron and he is not a real human being, he is just a “unit”.
And slowly, this thought begins to make Stiller slip into insanity as he believes his world and everything around him is not truly real.
And because of his behavior, he is suspected of murdering those who have been killed or have disappeared. And now, Stiller must find the contact unit who can connect with his world to the real world, before he is captured or killed.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“World on a Wire” makes its debut on Blu-ray and DVD and it’s important for me to note that if you want the best version of this film, purchase the Blu-ray version.
With that being said, “World on a Wire” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio and the film was shot via 16mm. According to the Criterion Collection, “World on a Wire” was supervised by director of photography Michael Ballhaus, this new digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner in 2K resolution from the original 16 mm A/B reversal rolls; color correction was done on a Discreet Lustre system. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using MTI’s DRS.
There was a lot of experimental filmmaking in order to achieve the look and feel of technology but also something different visually. According to cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, there were time when they held a bunsen burner underneath the camera in order to get a certain effect.
The film presentation does have a high level of grain (mixed with noise) and while another company had released the film with DNR (Digital Noise Reduction), it’s rather subjective to the viewer of whether or not they prefer it. I haven’t seen the Blu-ray version but for this DVD version of the film, the film does have a lot of grain but didn’t notice any major problems such as intense blurring, softness, artifacting, etc. I did notice a bit of saturation of a scene during the second half of the film for an indoor sequence. But it’s a short sequence that didn’t ruin my viewing of the film.
While the film does look its age due to the clothing of the time period, it’s rather an interesting film because it deals with a topic that still has relevance in today’s modern society and our view towards virtual reality and technology. We have had big production films take on the subject, may it be “The Matrix” or even “Avatar”, but what I enjoyed about this film is how Fassbinder and Ballhaus were able to effectively use the surroundings and clever camera techniques and movements to delve into the character’s psyche.
I was pretty impressed by what was accomplished in 1973 and how the film was edited. It was a bit jarring and surreal, but I enjoyed the cinematography for this film.
As for the audio, audio is presented in monaural German with English subtitles. Dialogue was clear and heard no problems with audio whatsoever.
According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 16 mm magnetic perforated reels. Analog artifacts like clicks, crackle and noise-floor were removed at CinePostproduction Bavaria Bild und Ton, Geiselgasteig, Germany, using a digital audio workstation. Additional restoration was done by the Criterion Collection, where clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
“World on a Wire – The Criterion Collection #598″ comes with the following special features:
- Interview – (34:12) Featuring a 2011 interview with German-film scholar Gerd Germunden who talks about Fassbinder, “World on a Wire” and how it is a lost-film, themes and structure of the film and more.
- Trailer – (1:35) The trailer for “World on a Wire” (restored version).
- Fassbinder’s “World on a Wire”: Looking Ahead to Today - (50:38) Featuring the 2010 documentary by Juliane Lorenz and interviews with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, co-screenwriter Fritz Muller-Scherz, actor Karl-Heinz Vosgerau (who plays the role of Herbert Siskins) and learning of what took place behind-the-scenes in the making of “World on a Wire”.
- 18-Page booklet – Featuring an 18-page booklet with “The Halls of Mirrors” essay by film critic Ed Halter.
In the west, when one thinks about television films, most never equate these films to quality cinema. They are films that are great for popcorn entertainment, never too deep, often contrived and kitschy.
But in Germany, television gave new German filmmakers a chance to show off their creativity but also a way to generate buzz about their films to a larger audience.
It’s been written that Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a filmmaker who never sought to become an auteur, if anything, he wanted to be a popular filmmaker and wanted his work to be well-known to larger audience. And while this film is classified as a sci-fi film and has your elements of the suave protagonist, beautiful women and even a few action-scenes, what separates this film from kitschy television films is that this is also a cerebral film.
Of course, with computers and technology and having had big-budget films on virtual worlds featured in films such as “The Matrix” and “Avatar” and also a plethora of video games, back in 1973, these stories were imaginative.
Supercomputer? Aside from major corporations, computers were not in consumer’s homes at this time. Virtual reality, could you imagine for those not exposed to computer technology trying to fathom virtual worlds? It may have seemed farfetched but when you watch this film today, it’s quite amazing of how this film explores simulation but also exploration into sophism and philosophic aspects of the human mind but also scientific research.
So, when you think of teleplays or television films, they typically resonate around experiences that people are accustomed to or have read in their newspapers. May it be love, courtroom dramas, police dramas, crime, etc. And yet this film which predates “The Matrix” and “Avatar” was made in 1973 for television.
Suffice to say, it aired on primetime television and did well in the ratings. But it was one of Fassbinder’s films that was never released on video until its restoration in 2010. Watching this film today, one can easily be in awe of what Fassbinder was able to create and bring to a televised audience. Also, be in awe that this auteur created a science fiction film.
While I do praise the film for its storyline and for its clever editing and beautiful cinematography considering the budget that Fassbinder had in creating this televised film, the film is not perfect. Sure, the acting is good but definitely not great. The film is slow-paced but this is a film meant to take in slowly and watch as the character of Stiller begins to make his discovery and we see how his world is literally turned upside down. He knows he is not a real human and that the world that he lives in is a simulcron. But anyone who is close to figuring out the truth will be eliminated or deleted.
And while watching “World on a Wire”, I was just amazed by what was pulled off in 1973. While cineaste are familiar with Fassbinder films such as “The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”, “Veronika Voss” or his wonderful TV mini-series “Berlin Alexanderplatz” and be entranced by how his films were written, how his films were shot and structured, even for a television film, Fassbinder was able to integrate that into “World on a Wire”.
From utilizing special effects through clever editing and just capturing a world where there is conspiracy, a world written around simulation, one man’s regression (and showcasing his evolving psyche) when he finds out the truth of his world, not only did I find “World on a Wire” to be a smart, classy and artistic film, I absolutely enjoyed it.
I loved the use of reflections, the eery music and even characters that seem unusual at times, it was as if we had a mixture of James Bond meets surrealism meets futuristic veracity.
While I have not seen the Blu-ray version of “World on a Wire”, I am confident that the Blu-ray version is the one to get, and the colors and detail would probably be much more pronounced than the DVD version. While there is considerable amount of grain and noise, picture quality for the film is good and it’s monaural lossless soundtrack is clear and understandable. Subtitles were easy to read and the DVD comes with a wonderful documentary plus an in-depth interview with scholar Gerd Germunden.
Overall, “World on a Wire” is a pretty good Fassbinder film. While I am biased towards many of his other cinema work and enjoyed “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, I am quite amazed by how well-structured this television film was, especially how smart and enjoyable it turned out.
You just don’t come across television films like this as it is a rarity and when you do, you just want more of it! I would imagine that the release of “World on a Wire” would make Fassbinder fans quite happy. Also, the potential of discovery of more wonderful television films by Fassbinder and other German filmmakers, who knows what other exciting films have yet to be found and introduced to the public.
But on it’s own, “World on a Wire” is a must-buy Rainer Werner Fassbinder DVD release from the Criterion Collection. No need for big budget special effects, this 1973 TV film relied on structure, character development, wonderful cinematography and clever editing and in the end, Fassbinder was successful.
“World on a Wire” is highly recommended!