05 September 2011

World on a Wire

My latest column is up at Strange Horizons, and this time it's about Rainer Werner Fassbinder's epic science fiction film World on a Wire (Welt am Draht).

If you want to see World on a Wire (and you should!), it's available on home video in the U.K. and Europe, and in the U.S. can be seen via Hulu if you subscribe to Hulu Plus (you can get a free trial subscription for a week, or if you have .edu email address, for a month). Rumor has it that Criterion will be releasing the film on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. at the end of this year or the beginning of next [update: the rumors were true]. It's also still touring various U.S. cities -- at the end of this week, it will be at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA.

I'm a Fassbinder nut, so will passionately defend even his films that only lunatics defend, but you don't have to be as obsessed with Fassbinder as I to see get pleasure from World on a Wire. (Although if "efficient" plotting, suspenseful storytelling, and "round" characterizations are your primary requirements for pleasure, you should probably stay away.) While World on a Wire isn't of the power and depth of, say, Berlin Alexanderplatz or a handful of Fassbinder's other absolute masterpieces, it's still a powerful, unsettling, beautiful movie, and the restoration that the Fassbinder Foundation did is remarkable -- to take an old 16mm master made for TV and turn it into something that can be admired on a giant cinema screen is no easy feat.

I could go on and on. I won't. Instead, if you want a taste of the film, check out the trailer, which I'll embed after the jump here:


  1. Coincidentally, a commercial Hollywood sf film (THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR)was later made (1999) based on the same obscure SF novel WORLD ON A WIRE is based on: SIMULACRON 3, by Daniel F. Galouye.

    I've only seen a couple of Fassbinder's films--back in the 80s when a theater near me here in NYC was having a Fassbinder festival and a friend of mine who was a fan talked me into going. I can't say he made a convert of me. I can't recall the name of one of the films I saw, but the other was FOX AND HIS FRIENDS.

  2. Finding your way into Fassbinder's work can be hugely challenging -- for years, I thought I hated him because I'd only seen The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Effi Briest, and found both cold, slow, boring. It wasn't until I saw Fear Eats the Soul and The Marriage of Maria Braun that I suddenly understood what all the fuss was about. And once I'd fallen in love with those two, I was able to go back to the others and see what I hadn't seen before. He's not a filmmaker whose work you can just randomly dip into; it really matters where you begin. (And he may still not appeal to you, of course. No art is universal.)

    And yes, 13th Floor is from the same source, but as I note in the SH piece, it's actually not coincidental -- Fassbinder's cinematographer for World on a Wire, Michael Ballhaus, loved the story and once he had some clout in Hollywood he worked on getting it made. It's not a bad movie itself, really, but it's a pretty shallow one in comparison to World on a Wire, and vividly demonstrates, to me at least, what a really great director like Fassbinder can bring to a production (one that had a tiny budget in comparison).

  3. Doh! I feel foolish that I didn't notice you had mentioned THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR in your article...and not just in passing. This is what comes from browsing rather than really reading what one assumes to comment on.

    I saw THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR when it was released, but I can remember virtually nothing of it...a testament to its unimaginative blandness.

    Maybe I'll try to see WORLD ON A WIRE...it may even still be playing here in NYC.