Back to the Future: World on a Wire Is Just in Time
A virtually unknown, newly restored 1973 two-part telefilm directed by long-gone wunderkind R.W. Fassbinder at the height of his powers, World on a Wire premiered to much fanfare at the Museum of Modern Art last year. Now Janus Films is giving the 35mm HD restoration a limited theatrical release at the IFC Center.
Adapted from Daniel F. Galouyes 1964 sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 and predicated on the notion of a computer-generated reality populated by identity units who believe themselves human, the movie looks back at The Creation of the Humanoids, forward to The Matrix, and directly at Fassbinders notoriously cultlike power over his acting ensemble. One scientist jokingly characterizes the identity units as performers: Theyre like the people dancing on TV for us.
A power-elite conspiracy yarn played out on two levels of realityvirtual and real, both suffused with free-floating paranoiaWorld on a Wire hardly lacks for narrative. But its meaning is largely delivered via an economical yet stylish mise-en-scène. This is corporate hellthe blandly futuristic, neon-lit look leans heavily on molded plastic furniture and ubiquitous TV monitors. (That the men are uniformly dressed in power suits and the women as Barbies may remind some of Mad Men.) Strategically placed mirrors suggest a characters illusory or divided nature, while the alienated performancesalternately declamatory and uninflectedas well as Fassbinders Warholian deployment of actors stolidly hanging out in frame, encourage the thought that the real world, too, is rife with identity units.
A bit of a slog at 205 minutes, World on a Wire builds up to a satisfyingly nutty finaleas the identity units grow restless, their virtual world begins to develop certain glitches.
Its remarkable how current it all seems. The movies mod furnishings, dated in 1973, have been several times revived and are currently in vogue. Its last 45 minutes have a computer-game logic, anticipating both David Cronenbergs eXistenZ and Mamoru Oshiis Avalon. And the improbably romantic ending is pure 21st century.
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