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Sunday, April 11, 2010

WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Fritz Muller-Scherz(screenplay); Daniel F. Galouye(novel "Simulacron-3")
Cast: Klaus Luwitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Worfgang Schenck, Gunter Lamprecht, Ulli Lommel, Adrian Hoven, Ivan Desny, Joachim Hansen, Kurt Raab, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John, Rudolf Lenz, Lilo Pempeit, Heinz Meier, Peter Chatel, Rainer Hauer et al.
Producers: Peter Marthesheimer and Alexander Wesemann
Original Music: Gottfried Hungsberg
Running Time: 205 Minutes
Country of Origin: Germany
Language: German
Genre: Sci-Fi, Crime, Mystery

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was brilliant, innovative and ahead of his time in both thought and product. When he died of a drug overdose in 1982 he was only 37 but he left behind 40 films.

Now, New Yorkers will be treated to the American premiere of his 1973 film, World on a Wire. True, the story was taken from an existing novel (Simulacron-3), but the film the 28-year old Fassbinder completed and showed only once in October 1973 on German television, was and is ahead of its time in concept, sets and predictions.

Lovingly restored by the Fassbinder Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art restoration experts, under the supervision of Michael Ballhaus, the original cinematographer, the film will be shown at MOMA April 14th through April 19th (check www.moma.org).

Without the 3D effects of modern films and the carefully choreographed fight scenes of science fiction and action movies, the film still manages to achieve thought-provoking effects by presenting virtual-reality immersion via a "super" computer.

Watching the film without any previous exposure to either the film or original book, I was strongly reminded of both The Matrix and The Matrix Revisited as the characters enter an alternate universe via computer simulation controlled by human thought and brain waves.

The film centers on a cybernetics firm that has created a miniature world that is populated by "identity units." The firm's scientists are unaware that the identity units are controlled from above.

Researcher Fred Stiller discovers that the world he knows and believes to be the real world may actually be a simulation. Although Fassbinder and his co-writer Fritz Muller-Scherz knew very little about computers, they were fascinated by the question of what constitutes the real world as opposed to artificial worlds.

While he had never tackled science fiction before, World on a Wire proved to be a fertile working environment where Fassbinder combines his previously used themes of power, dependence, exploitation and manipulation.

Throughout the film there are constant mind games, but the viewer is never certain of what is real and what isn't.

When the Director of Research dies under mysterious circumstances and the Director of Security Services disappears, Stiller starts a search to find out what happened to each and is faced with the realization that either they didn't exist or his world is being controlled and people and events deleted.

The film's building suspense is enhanced by the original score and the superb acting, which seems perfectly natural although Fassbinder was dealing with behavioral modeling and social control concepts that were fairly horrifying to society at the time.

The original book forecast a world in which Madison Avenue advertisers and political pollsters took control and influenced public thought and action. Today, in 2010, we have to ask ourselves based on recent occurrences, how much of that forecast has already come true?

Because he didn't have the modernistic buildings needed for sets, Fassbinder spent his weekends filming in Paris where he could use the underground shopping malls and the high rise architecture to create his future world.

The night club scenes were shot at the Alcazar, a night club where Fassbinder hung out and after becoming friendly with the performers, filmed them in their actual performances. While not screen actors, they were actual night club performers and their authenticity comes across on screen.

During the week he returned to Germany to work on stage productions and another movie. His energy and wealth of ideas and creativity seems endless.

World on a Wire has chic, modern furnishings and costumes. The sets have lots of glass and mirrors to show the uncertainty of what's real and what's a reflection.

Every scene seems to show reflections of characters, mirror images of faces and bodies.

Tremendous detail is paid to the costumes, the textures, fabrics and minute details whether a man's velvet suit or a woman's fashionably coordinated outfit.

The performances are riveting and totally believable although both members of the Fassbinder Foundation and the cast commented that Klaus Lowitsch drank heavily and apparently gave his best performances when drunk.

Although he didn't consider World on a Wire to be among his best, Fassbinder had expressed hope that some day the film would be released theatrically. Now, having had a recent premiere in Berlin and coming to the MOMA, Fassbinder's wish is finally being realized.