WORLD ON A WIRE – Fassbinder’s Sci-Fi Epic at MoMA

by Red Cell

Welt am Draht (World of Wires or World on a Wire in English) is a very rare three and a half hour, made for German television, science-fiction thriller. The film is making a special appearance at both the 2010 Berlinale (see our link here) and at MoMA in New York. There is also a German DVD release by Arthaus/Kinowelt. Unfortunately, this DVD release has no English subtitles, so we can only hope that there will be a US-friendly version of the DVD soon!

Fassbinder’s film is an adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s 1964 American novel “Simulacron-3” (aka The Counterfeit World) and was made a quarter century before The Matrix, which used many of the same ideas! You Americans may remember a little film called, The Thirteenth Floor that was the US version from the same novel. This movie has only been shown in America once before, in 1997, as part of a comprehensive Fassbinder retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art!

The film stars Klaus Löwitsch, who would later work with Fassbinder on The Marriage of Maria Braun, Despair and Shadow of Angels, the latter two films being nearly impossible to find. Other actors include: Günter Lamprecht, Gottfried John, Margit Carstensen, Ulli Lommel and Kurt Raab co-star, with Werner Schroeter, Peter Kern, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Eddie Constantine and Ingrid Caven (in an uncredited role).

In cooperation with the film’s original cameraman, Michael Ballhaus, MoMA has taken the 16mm prints and restored them, creating a pristine, new 35mm print that will become part of the museum’s permanent collection!

You can see more about the MoMA event here.

About World on a Wire from the Fassbinder Foundation:

    Simulacron 1 is the most important project in the institute for cybernetics and futurology – an electronic monster that is supposed to elevate conventional computer technology to a new level. Once it functions, Simulacron will be able to predict future social, economic, and political occurrences as precisely as though they were reality. Thus, Simulacron is a least interesting for two parties: those who are interested in improving future life conditions and those who hope for information privileges vis-à-vis their competitors. This could, for instance, concern the aluminum market. Professor Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) is the initiator and the head of the research project. He dies under mysterious circumstances – the common opinion is that he committed suicide as he showed peculiar signs of a bizarre mental disturbance just prior to his death. Siskins (Karl-Heinz Vosgerau), almighty boss of the institute, makes Dr. Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), the closest associate of the deceased, Vollmer’s successor. But soon, the colleagues notice odd symptoms in Stiller as well: He claims that the institute’s head of security, Günther Lause (Ivan Desny), has vanished without trace, whereas everyone knows that his name is Hans Edelkern (Joachim Hansen) and that he is as happy as a clam. Stiller also talks about an attempt to murder him – but it is obvious that this was a completely normal accident. Dr. Stiller also opposes his superior Siskins’ intention to pass special Simulacron predictions to private people in advance. It appears that Stiller’s nerves are not sufficiently strong for the type of pressure his new job entails. He gets nauseous, does not recognize people, and instead talks of people nobody apart from him knows. Stiller tries to forget his Simulacron-related problems. For him, Simulacron is not just a lifeless machine but a kind of miniature universe. Although he knows very well that the so-called identity units in Simulacron are nothing but the result of complex electronic procedures, the units sometimes appear like real people to him. And they are indeed based on humans. Because they are programmed to make precise predictions about real people’s behavior, they may not be different from them. Is Stiller schizophrenic? This is exactly what many believe – until one day, during a routine transfer, Stiller’s conscience gets entangled into the circuits of Simulacron where he believes to meet an old acquaintance again: Günther Lause, the institute of cybernetics’ and futurology’s head of security. Of the latter everyone except Stiller claims that he has never existed. World on a Wire neither plays here nor anywhere else, it is not placed in the present but not in the past or the future either. World on a Wire takes place in an artificial world and in an artificial time – it is a fiction, a hypothesis, a plan for further discussion, no more. And no less.

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