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DVD Review

DVD cover

World on a Wire (1974)
Restored 2 Disc Edition


Starring: Klaus Löwitsch, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Adrian Hoven and Ivan Desny
Second Sight
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: U
Available 17 May 2010

In an undisclosed future Dr Stiller works on the Simulacron 1 project, a computer project which has created a virtual reality in its entirety, so much so that the simulated people believe themselves to be real. When his boss kills himself Stiller becomes head of the project. Like his boss, Stiller starts to behave oddly and his sense of reality appears to be breaking down. Although he feels that the head of the company is to blame, Stiller’s journey leads him to discover a stranger and more deadly truth...

World on a Wire (Welt am Draht - 1973) is a German two-part television science fiction drama directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The fully restored show is presented in German with English subtitles. The script was written by Fassbinder and Fritz Müller-Scherz, based on Daniel F. Galouye’s novel Simulacron-3. The story was later remade as The Thirteenth Floor (1999).

Although many of the themes in the story are familiar today courtesy of The Matrix, which this predates by 26 years, one has to remember just when the show was made. In 1973 computers were barely crawling out of their calculator phase, so the idea that one day they could be used to create a whole new level of virtual reality is somewhat revolutionary.

Fassbinder has borrowed from both Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) both of which used a muted form of acting to highlight their characters lack of humanity: in Alphaville because the computer had systematically removed emotions and in 2001 because man had become subjugated by his own technology. Both are specifically referenced within the show. In World on a Wire we are offered a world of stark contrasts, on the one hand Stiller’s world is a corporate nightmare, the plastic furniture which should represent modernity instead represents sterility which is in stark contrast to the pleasure dens of the clubs where Lilly Marlane plays over and over.

Fassbinder further pushes the theme of emotional vacuums and a disconnected reality by the general use of glass and mirrors to break up the scene; often the audience thinks that they are directly watching the action only to discover that they are watching a reflection of reality. Likewise Fassbinder often breaks up the picture so that half is reality and half a reflection. If this all seems a little artsy fartsy its use makes perfect sense when the director finally reveals the dark secret at the heart of the story.

Klaus Löwitsch does a fine job at playing Stiller as a man who is slowly losing his grip on reality. Initially the audience is misdirected into thinking that we are watching a man having a mental breakdown, until we too witness strange events external to Stiller, like the complete disappearance of his friend, who nobody apart from Stiller appears to remember. Things get weirder when a character from the Simulacron 1 virtual reality is able to break into the real world.

This is the first time that the show has been available on DVD so it’s well worth checking out. Disc one holds the first episode (1 hr, 41 min, 11 sec) and part two (1 hr, 42 min, 59 sec) is included on disc two which also comes with a single, but very impressive extra in the form of Fassbinder’s World On A Wire: Looking Ahead To The Future (48 min, 33 sec) which has contributions from co-script writer Fritz Müller-Scherz and Michael Ballhaus one of the cinematographers. It is an insightful look at the show's restoration interlaced with memories and reminiscences of the show.

Although not the classic that it would like to think it is, World on a Wire is undoubtedly an important work in the history of television science fiction and represents a time when concepts and thoughtfulness were the main driving forces of science fiction.


Charles Packer

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