World on a Wire [Welt am Draht] (1973)

Some years ago, I published an essay at the late and much lamented Internet Review of Science Fiction listing a number of films which desperately needed to be released on DVD.  It included an intriguing German film by bad boy director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who made more than 40 films before his death at age 35)  

World on a Wire was originally a TV miniseries, something which even now would lead most of us to scoff at any suggestion that it could be a great film.  Yet in Europe, for some reason, acclaimed European directors have been perfectly willing to work on television:  one thinks of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and Scenes From a Marriage; Lars Von Trier’s Medea and The Kingdom; and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue.

Based on Daniel F. Galouye’s SF novel, Simulacron One, it tells the story of the new leader of a project to create an incredibly realistic computer-simulated world.  He sees a friend  vanish before his eyes – and then discovers that no one else can remember him!  He slowly begins to question his own reality as the odd details pile up, and he becomes increasingly curious about the strange woman who shows up claiming to be the widow of his unmarried predecessor…

If this sounds at all familiar, it is because the Roland Emmerich produced The Thirteenth Floor (1999), was based on the same novel.

This may be the first movie to deal with virtual reality (although there are hints of it in William Castle’s oddity, Project X) and it does so with a minimum of special effects.  Instead we have some very fascinating and bizarre set designs, a lot of extravagant 1970s clothing and a twisty and dense plot that makes this nearly four hour long film seem far, far, shorter.

It is, in fact, a brilliant and strange film, one which languished in obscurity until Fassbinder’s admirers started passing around bootleg copies.  Fortunately for us, the Criterion Collection finally added it to their growing list of shamefully neglected films available on DVD.

Not that I think I had anything to do with it.

 

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