Sunday 24 February 2019


World On A Wire, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's sci-fi paranoid thriller, is out now in a deluxe blu-ray boxset.

When Vollmer, the technical director of the secretive Simulacron 1 project dies under mysterious circumstances, Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) is brought in to take over the project. Wary of what the real intentions of the project are, Stiller becomes a gumshoe of sorts, hoping to crack the case of what really happened to Vollmer, uncovering more than he anticipated about the true nature of the Simulacron project along the way.

First shown on television in 1973, World On A Wire has been billed as an influence on The Matrix, and while that is a parallel that can be seen in the high concept, big thinking ideas that question man's own existence, the visual style of the film couldn't be more different. The decor and clothing of this world are oh-so very 1970s. But this is a film all about its ideas, and it has a lot of them. The work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the prolific enfant terrible of the new German cinema known for his avant-garde experimentalism, it's a lot less controversial than some of his other works, perhaps due to its television roots. World On A Wire's concerns are based on man's fear of new technology, rather quaintly in this case, "computers".

Firstly, this boxset is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also probably necessary to fit it all in. The film itself is 3 hours 25 minutes and split across the 2 blu-ray discs, both with additional extras. Personally, I'm of the argument that a perfect film is between 90 to 100 minutes, so the 3 hour plus runtime may seem a little daunting. It is probably best viewed as originally intended; a high quality TV drama that can be viewed over two nights; but if you're into it... binge away.

It's a cerebral, talky exploration of the concepts of an artificially programmed world. If we were in some sort of manufactured world, would we really know? A film with ideas coming from every direction and that moves at a pace, it would have actually benefitted the story to divide this up more and allow longer for the ideas to develop in the mind of the audience. I could see this getting a 21st century revamp at some point, where it would probably be re-imagined as a mini-series across 6 to 8 episodes. It's often po-faced, with lines such as "could you convincingly explain our computer to a layman if all of society depended on it?" delivered in such a flat, humourless manner that it was unavoidably humorous to my modern ears.

World On A Wire is at its best when evoking classic 70s paranoid thrillers like Parallax View, with Stiller doubting who to trust and which of his former colleagues are who they say they are, and even manages to have a sly wink towards Alphaville (complete with Lemmy Caution cameo). At its core it is a pre-cursor to the technology obsessed psychological thrillers that were to come in the following decade. Scanners without the head pops, Videodrome without Debbie Harry; it's at times dated and mind meltingly confusing to keep up, but it's a visionary work that has plenty to offer audiences who like to deep dive into the sci-fi genre.

Extras -
- Rigid slipcase packaging
- 50 page book featuring new essays from Anton Bitel and Daniel Bird, archival writing from Daniel Oberhaus and Christian Braad Thomsen, stills and rare on-set photos by Peter Gauhe
- 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

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