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I saw Welt am Draht in German TV when it was broadcast first, sometime
or 74 i guess. I was nine or ten years old then, and it left a tremendous
impression on me -- World On Wires is definitely one of my Myths of
The two or three parts were aired again two or three times, the last time i watched it must have been in the eighties. I recorded them, but, very unfortunately, somehow these tapes got lost in the eddies of reality. It is hard to impossible to find Welt am Draht anywhere these days, which is really sad.
Welt am Draht changed the way i perceive the world. It is its credibility, the haunting story, the atmosphere of Germany in the early seventies, the actors, everything. It was very up to date then, and i think it is very much so now. We used to watch a lot of SF on TV, and I remember several serials that were in atmosphere and outlook so close to RWF's Welt, it has almost all melted into a kind of emotion, some sort of dim remembrance of future.
In these days of ultra-fast processors and the Internet, coming up with a movie like "The Matrix" may seem merely the next step from coining the term 'cyberspace', but do you remember what computers were like in 1974? Right. To come up with the notion of virtual reality back then is truly an amazing feat of the imagination. Fassbinder's movie, of course, has none of the massive gunslinging and pyrotechnics, and a lot of 'artsy' elements instead, but the atmosphere it creates is intense and poses the question how we can know what is real in a dark and gripping manner, making this a chiller and a thriller for the mind. It also takes it up a notch on more recent VR stories: if you get out of one cyberspace, can you be sure you didn't just emerge into another level of virtual reality?
First of all, this film is nearly impossible to get a grip on, but the
upcoming Fassbinder DVD-Collection (Code 2!) hopefully includes this
If you are fond of virtual reality stories (and capable of understanding
German language) you might want to look for a video-hunt. This film is
fascinating, with a great cast of famous (and sometimes notorious...)
actors. It foreshadows everything about VR - because it is the first
adaption of the novel "Simulacron", on which "13th Floor" is based as
"Welt am Draht" is brilliantly shot by Michael Ballhaus and Ulrich Prinz.
Although I am not a fan of Fassbinder's works, I really liked the eerie
atmosphere and the hilarious 70's design.
One of the best movies I ever saw - a classic "Matrix" movie. For many
years, I have been trying to get it on VHS or DVD - to no avail. The
German movie/TV industry still prefers to let valuable cultural
contributions (and this is Fassbinder, after all!) rot away and collect
dust in some archive rather than distribute it commercially (and make a
lot of money with it if that is what stimulates them instead of the
promotion of creative thinking). Though, the WDR once told me if I paid
DM 200.00 to check the copyright (non-reimbursable), and then DM 8 per
minute of copying, plus the cost for the materials, then they will
consider preparing a (single!) copy for me. Some way to sell something!
The same problem we have with many other TV movies or series like "So
weit die Füße tragen", "Sonntagseltern", "Kellerkinder", and others.
Excellent TV series - never to be heard of again. Germany, wake up!
UPDATE from March 2007: Last year, I finally could get a DVD copy from the "Mittschnittservice" of the WDR for about 50+ Euro. Great!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Part 1 of Fassbinder's sci-fi foray, World on a Wire is quite good. I
always like his direct, theatrical style. He opens with some references
to 2001 -- white plastic futuristic decor, space opera music -- to set
the tone. Then there's a whole lot of Alphaville -- hosts of blank
expressions held artificially long -- and early Godard. And sure enough
Eddie Constantine even has a small role near the end of Part 2.
It's a very Matrixy premise, from way back in 1973, of a world of people, termed identity units, created artificially in a supercomputer as an experimental control group, with the goal of predicting future human behavior and learning what to avoid/promote. There is an element of Big Gov't social engineering, and then companies move in to try to learn future demand (Big Steel is the baddie here, which is a little dated). In other words, it's just like today's world, with all of us trying to become identity units for Google to track ... or somesuch. The Thirteenth Floor (1999) is also based on the same novel "Simulacron 3" by Daniel F. Galouye.
Fassbinder uses lots of mirror shots to disorient and question the reality of identity and the nature of reality. With the camera often tracking over to mirrors, or starting with mirror images which only become apparent when the camera tracks a person's movement away from and out of a mirror. The room housing the supercomputer has a couple of fully mirrored walls, which gives it a sleek futuristic look, and acts as a visual metaphor for the layers of reality/unreality.
I especially liked seeing Fassbinder regulars pop up. El Hedi ben Salem plays a bodyguard/security agent; Barbara Valentin a sexy secretary/ corporate spy. This was originally done for German television, and Fassbinder uses some of these actors for his later TV opus Berlin Alexanderplatz. There is a weird sequence in World on a Wire, where Gottfried John's character takes over Gunter Lamprecht's body (which in BA terms is Reinhold taking over Franz Biberkopf, which has eerie resonance).
I was a bit underwhelmed with the extra: Fassbinder's World On A Wire: Looking Ahead To Today, but it did shed light on the casting. The fearless 27 year old Fassbinder used many older ex-stars for the project, an interesting decision to go retro to obtain a slightly futuristic feel -- similar to Godard's choice of Eddie Constantine in Alphaville. Fassbinder wants something to be a little off and odd about the characters, and so he uses past-their-prime actors, has them stare blankly unnaturally long, and dresses them up in costumes, distinctly retro, which they wear like costumes. This style creates a unique look and feel to the whole proceedings, distinctly off and slightly phony, accordant with the artificial reality theme.
The second half of World on a Wire is a little weaker. Part 2 becomes a paranoid thriller, as Fassbinder mostly focuses on the psychological aspects and the chase/hunt for the man who knows too much about the different levels of reality. And actually that's a joke Fassbinder tosses in. The focus is on a lone man wrongfully accused and caught up in a vast conspiracy. Less than one minute after I said to myself, Gee, this is becoming rather Hitchcockian, Fassbinder has a character refer to another's death by saying, "poor Franz Holm, a man who knew too much." Wink.
Part 2 is similar to such political/corporate conspiracy films as Parallax View, but now I see that Wire came out the year before Parallax. And Soylent Green came out just a few months earlier. Interesting. Altogether World on a Wire is nearly 3' 20", and it probably could have used a bit of trimming and tightening in the second half. But this is really an interesting addition to the Fassbinder legacy. Quite a treat for Fassbinder fans.
When I saw this film the first time I was very impressed concerning the
of atmosphere the director creates. It is also very interesting to see how
they imagine the near future in the year 1974. If you see the film you
see a lot of sets and customs which are called freaky and modern again
The topic of the film deals with the old question "What is real and what is illusion?". If you see "The Matrix" you will find a lot of similarities. But the two films are not comparable at all because "Welt am Draht" is art and "The Matrix" is entertainment. If prefer the first one.
Unfortunately I lost my video copy of it.
HIGHLY recommended to fans of classy/cheesy 70's sci-fi, very early "cyberpunk", and vintage German film: the recently re-"discovered" and restored, creepy mind-bender "Welt am Draht" ("World on a Wire") originally shot on 16mm film and presented as a 2-part miniseries on West German television in 1973. while it's obviously quite long, starts out kinda slow, flounders at times in cheesy existentialism, has no special effects to speak of, and has been ripped off so much it almost seems clichéd at this point (the massively inferior 1999's "The Thirteenth Floor" was based on the same book, and similar concepts have cropped up in a variety of stories throughout sci-fi...) it was SO far ahead of its time that it still packs a lot of relevant futuristic cyber-bite, albeit with a VERY sweet, classy retro style. it's very much an "intellectual" James Bond in Alphaville, though with some "2001" flourishes of design and cinematography... maybe not the greatest of masterpieces, but such an influential and unique sci-fi classic, it really should be seen by any fan of the genres or style, especially for the first time in decades!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The more powerful the class, the more it claims not to exist, and its
power is employed above all to enforce this claim. It is modest only on
this one point, however, because this officially nonexistent
bureaucracy simultaneously attributes the crowning achievements of
history to its own infallible leadership. Though its existence is
everywhere in evidence, the bureaucracy must be invisible as a class.
As a result, all social life becomes insane." ― Guy Debord
Werner Fassbinder's "World on a Wire" was first released on German television in 1973. Forgotten for decades, it reappeared in 2010 with new prints and a theatrical release, at which point it was quickly embraced as one of cinema's hidden milestones.
Pre-dating "The Matrix", "Blade Runner", "Inception", "Existenz", "Dark City", "Ghost in the Shell", "Paprika", "Strange Days", "Star Trek" ("Ship in a Bottle", "Projections") and many other similar works, "Wire" stars Klaus Lowitsch as Fred Stiller. Stiller's working with the Institute for Cybernetics and Future Science, who are busy creating an artificial world populated by thousands of sophisticated A.I. "identity units". The film was based on "Simulacron 3", a 1964 novel by Daniel Galouye. Philip K. Dick's "The Simulacra" was published the same year.
"Wire's" first half plays with now familiar questions of phenomenology (what constitutes experience, perception and consciousness?), epistemology (what is knowledge and how is it acquired?) and ontology (what constitutes the self, existence and reality?). Here Stiller realises that he is in fact a computer simulation of the Real Fred Stiller. This baffles poor Fred, as he has also recently created a computer simulation of "himself". The film thus offers a series of nested realities, simulations boxed within simulations boxed within simulations. When the "identity units" recognise that they are "not authentic", they begin to view others as phony automatons, have little existential crises and slip into depression. Some exhibit the existence denial of Cotard's Syndrome ("I think that I don't exist!"). Others resort to suicide.
Like Fassbinder's "identity units", humans are themselves "machines who are not aware that they are machines". Each of us is mechanistically programmed by an unbroken causal chain, and what we "see" is itself a mental simulation or representational content. The claims of "naive realists" (the belief that senses provide direct awareness) are similarly false. Our phenomenal life unfolds in a world-model and we are always blind to the mediums through which "things" are transmuted en-route to us. Thinkers like Hume, Schopenhauer, Locke, Sartre, Daniel Dennet and many other modern neuroscientists have also dethroned the notion of the Sovereign Self. For them, selfhood only exists at the level of false appearances. It is an accidental byproduct of processes which misrepresent "themselves" for "itself", and even consciousness only arises "after the fact", always dependent on objects which the subject is inadvertently constructed in relation to. Other philosophers are equally, or overly, droll. "The brute fact is that there is nothing behind the face," Thomas Metzinger would say. "There's no one there." And Erwin Schrodinger: "To learn that the personality of a human being cannot really be found in the interior of a human body is so amazing that it meets with doubts and hesitation, we are very loath to admit it."
But Fassbinder, a neo-Marxist, has always been more interested in the political. Like many of his pictures, "Wire" thus paints late capitalism as a superstructure which co-opts everything it touches. This is a giant control society, a kind of giddily embraced techno-totalitarianism in which everything is under surveillance, personalities are managed and created, everyone is an automaton lost in their own private cyberspational urgencies, capitalism has fully colonised human consciousness and machines simulate reality whilst people simulate "individuality" and "authenticity". "You're nothing more than the image others have made of you!" characters say.
More than this, "Wire" portrays "reality" as a collective psychosis in which all social energy is sucked into a vortex of labour and simulated productivity. The simulations made by The Institute, we later learn, are themselves intended for the prediction of future market trends, the "identity units" (and the whole world itself) literally created for the purpose of monitoring buying, selling and consumption. More eerily, the simulations within the simulations seem designed to investigate how people react to certain forms of control; a dry run for a total conversion which will soon occur, or may already have. Regardless, with the help of the "identity units", Germany's economy can be meticulously pre-planned and engineered. This kind of Big Data Mining is already occurring the superstore Target famously mailed pregnancy kits to a teenage girl, successfully predicting her pregnancy before the girl, her family, lover or father knew she was pregnant computerised pattern detectors already surmising from and shaping behaviour. Elsewhere Fassbinder shows, not just the political cost of distraction, but how distraction and solipsism are desired by those on every level of society. The Real Fred Stiller programs himself as a suave ladies man, humans love the idealisations sold to them by their digital echo chambers and the Masters rake in the cash whilst everyone remains oblivious. Meanwhile, those pesky "identity units" who wreak the party are "deleted" or "suicided" with the flip of a switch. The film's overriding metaphor (Zeno's Paradox), points to a world in which everything moves but no distance is travelled and no progress is made.
Aesthetically, "Wire" gives us mirrored surfaces, alienating spaces and a style which mixes noir, SF and retro-futurism. Its signature song is Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde", used as an ironic commentary on the idealisations of Fassbinder's characters, but perhaps chosen because it was itself inspired by Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and Representation". The film ends with a playboy and playgirl in a box, spinning in false assumptions.
8.5/10 - Masterpiece but overlong.
Is it possible that the Wachowski brothers knew "Welt am Draht"? That they took the concept of a 'puppet inside a puppet' for "The Matrix" too? The end of "Matrix Reloaded" (2nd Movie, the third is still not out while I am writing this) tells us what the "real world" in Matrix will be: another Matrix :-)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yes!!!! Fassbinder and Ballhaus are at the top of their game, back in 1973! It's about the same subject, but in my opinion it's a much better movie than THE MATRIX (1999), at least it was 200 times cheaper! Very nice camera work by Michael Ballhaus and the wonderful "Albatross" by Fleetwood Mac at the end. Fassbinder is creating a very moody tone for the whole film. It's a shame this movie was never released on DVD. But now after 37 Years they finally came to the conclusion, that this TV-Movie, is not only one of the best Fassbinder films (altough there are quiet a lot best Fassbinder films), it's a brilliant example for a science-fiction movie, done without much money. Buy it!! Watch it!!
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