Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Movie review: Fassbinder fails to fully embrace futuristic vision

  • Print

IMAGINE the movie The Matrix without visual effects, guns, or "bullet time."

Now imagine it on German television in 1973.

Movie Review

World on a Wire
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Subject to classification
209 minutes
Three stars out of five

What you now have is World on a Wire, a two-part movie miniseries from no less than the prolific German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With its themes of artificial reality and artificial humanity, the movie not only anticipates The Matrix but Blade Runner, too.

Computer scientist Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) becomes suspicious upon the mysterious death of his project chief, Vollmer, a man who suffered headaches and possibly delusions before being electrocuted in the computer room.

Stiller is put in charge of Simulacron, an artificial world populated by 8,000 "identity units" who go about their lives unaware that they are, in fact, computer programs.

Stiller's own suspicions are aroused when he investigates with the help of a security chief, Gunther Lause, who abruptly goes missing. Suddenly, no one is aware Lause existed.

Stiller's pursuit of the truth leads him to the brink of insanity, despite the intervention of Vollmer's curiously remote daughter Eva (Mascha Rabben) and his sexy new secretary (Barbara Valentin, a Fassbinder favourite once referred to as the "Jayne Mansfield of Germany").

This movie was based on a novel that inspired a similarly obscure 1999 Hollywood film titled The Thirteenth Floor, which was quickly overshadowed by The Matrix, released the same year.

Despite Fassbinder's name, World on a Wire may be the most obscure of all. Part of this has to do with the film being unnecessarily slow going. (Cinematheque is scheduling a 15 minute intermission between the two episodes, which means you're committed to a nearly four-hour experience.) Part of it has to do with its look, which despite the imaginative work by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas), is pretty ugly. Forget The Matrix's highly elaborate production design. The look of this film could be described as '70s futuristic, which translates as lots of plastic surfaces and heinous colour schemes.

Fassbinder was influenced by melodramatists such as Douglas Sirk in many of his other films, but in this one, his primary influence was Jean-Luc Godard, and especially Godard's Alphaville, another film about a computer-controlled future world. That is one reason for the cameo appearance of Eddie Constantine, Alphaville's gumshoe Lemmy Caution.

Those qualities may appeal to film history buffs and sci-fi completists. For Fassbinder fans, there are a few auteur touches, including a Marlene Dietrich impersonator singing Lili Marlene and a surfeit of semi-clad muscular black men.

When making a movie about an artificial universe, it should not be surprising that a filmmaker will indulge his own notions of what the world should look like. Yet one must conclude Fassbinder held back.

If the notorious filmmaker had indulged his sensibilities as much as the Wachowski brothers did for The Matrix, this film might have become a classic instead of a sci-fi footnote.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2011 D4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A black swallowtail butterfly land on Lantana flowers Sunday morning at the Assiniboine Park English Gardens- standup photo – August 14, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should political leaders be highly visible on the frontlines of flood fights and other natural disasters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google