Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: World on a Wire

Based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) is the story of an engineer who makes a chilling discovery in the corporation he works for involving conspiracies following the death of a colleague. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and screenplay by Fassbinder and Fritz Muller-Scherz, the film is a two-part sci-fi miniseries that blends with all sorts of genres from film noir, melodrama, and suspense as it play into a man pondering his own existence in a world where everyone is trying to find answers through machines. Starring Klaus Lowitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Wolfgang Schenck, Gunter Lamprecht, and Ulli Lommel. Welt am Draht is an evocative yet whimsical film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Set in modern-day Cologne, West Germany, the film revolves around a murder mystery where an engineer is trying to find out what happened as sudden disappearances have occurred while becoming a target from his superiors. It’s a film that explores a man who is trying to deal with these mysterious events around him while trying out this new simulation experiment that the company he works for is making. Yet, he would question the world he’s in as it raises a lot of questions into the people that disappeared as well as who to trust. The film’s screenplay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Fritz Muller-Scherz definitely explore the idea of reality but also fantasy in what humans want to experience. Yet, it is about the mystery of what this man in Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) is trying to discover as the film is split into two parts as it was originally made as a two-part miniseries. The first part is about the mysterious death of Professor Henry Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) and the sudden disappearance of Stiller’s friend Gunther Lause (Ivan Desny) at a party Stiller was at.

The script would have Stiller try and solve everything while being promoted as the technical director for the company he works for as he suspects one of the bosses in Herbert Siskins (Karl Heinz Vosgerau). Stiller has few he could trust as he also encounter’s Vollmer’s daughter Eva (Mascha Rabben) who wants to know what happens to her father. The second part isn’t just about the world that Stiller is in but there’s also a strange twist which definitely blurs what is happening around him. Especially where he becomes a suspect of Vollmer’s murder and comes to term with the fact that he knows too much and his superiors want him dead. Then there’s the stuff about technology and how it can manipulate one’s perception of reality which is prominent in the film as the simulation machine that Stiller is trying to observe has him realize of its power and how it can distort things.

Fassbinder’s direction is definitely stylish for not just the world he creates inside the emerging world of supercomputers but also for setting it in modern times rather than the future. Shot on 16mm film and on location in Cologne, West Germany, Fassbinder would largely set the film in some of the business sections but also use locations such as shopping malls where some of the characters meet. Though it’s shot in the 1:33:1 full-frame aspect ratio which was common with television in those times, Fassbinder is able to use that format to his advantage in some of the wide and medium shots. Using some dolly-tracking shots for some of the camera movements, Fassbinder showcases a world that does feel modern but also a bit futuristic in some respects. Yet, he takes his time in unveiling bits and pieces where the film does start off slow in order to establish the characters, environment, and the situation that Stiller is in.

Fassbinder would also create hints in the first part of the film to showcase things that could play into this world that Stiller is in as it blur the line in reality and fiction. Once the big reveal in the first half is presented, it does change the tone of the film into something that is far more intriguing but also filled with a lot of twists and turns. There isn’t a lot of big moments of action in the film as it’s more about ideas and motivations as Fassbinder wants the audience to follow the events as well as antagonists planning their next move. By the time the film reaches its climax where Stiller would uncover some truth, it is once again about the world that he’s in and how it may not be the reality that he or anyone wants. Especially when there are things around him that doesn’t make any sense where he comes into question about who he is. Overall, Fassbinder creates a hypnotic yet rapturous film about a man questioning himself and his own environment while solving a murder mystery.

Cinematographers Michael Ballhaus and Ulrich Prinz do brilliant work with the film’s grainy yet colorful cinematography as it play into the dazzling lights inside some of the interiors as well as some of the exterior scenes at night. Editors Marie Anne Gerhardt and Ursula Elles do amazing work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts and other stylish cuts help play to the film’s methodical pacing as well as in creating some of its eerie moments of suspense. Production designers Kurt Raab, Horst Giese, and Walter Koch do incredible work with the set design from the supercomputer room and the simulation room plus the homes of some of the characters to play into their personalities. Costume designer Gabrielle Pillon does fantastic work with the design of the dresses that the women wear as well as some of the clothes of the men to play into their own personalities

The makeup work by Rosemarie Schonartz is terrific for the way some of the women look in the film as well as other oddball characters that Stiller would meet like a waiter a nightclub. The sound work of Hans Pampuch and Ernst Thomas is superb for not just the sparseness in some of the quieter moments but how some of the screeching sounds of electronics come into play to try and stop Stiller from discovering something as it add so much to the environment he’s in. The film’s music by Gottfried Hungsberg and Archives is excellent for its mixture of orchestral and electronic music that play into the suspense and drama while the music soundtrack features an array of classical music pieces as well as contemporary cuts from Elvis Presley and Fleetwood Mac.

The film’s phenomenal cast include some notable small roles from Eddie Constantine as a man who gives Stiller a ride late in the film, El Hedi ben Salem as a corporate hood in Castro, Rudolph Lenz as the corporate chief Hartmann, Kurt Raab as Siskins’ new corporate observer Mark Holm, Ingrid Caven as a reporter’s secretary, Joachim Hansen as the executive Hans Edelkern, Adrian Hoven as Professor Vollmer, and Ivan Desny as Stiller’s friend Gunther Lause who tells him about Vollmer’s death before he mysteriously disappears. Ulli Lommel is terrific as the reporter Rupp who is one of the few that believes that Stiller is telling the truth while Wolfgang Schenck is superb as the inspector Franz Hahn who also makes a discovery that proves that Stiller is innocent until he behaves quite strangely. Margit Carstensen is wonderful as Maya Schmidt-Genter as a lover of Stiller who only appears occasionally as someone that is a source of comfort until she too acts strangely towards him.

Barbara Valentin is fantastic as Stiller’s secretary Gloria Fromm as a beautiful and voluptuous woman who is quite ambiguous in her motives yet later realizes what is really going on. Gunter Lamprecht is excellent as Fritz Walfang as a scientist who has help create the simulation machine as he becomes aware of what is really going on as he becomes one of the few who believes Stiller. Karl-Heinz Vosgerau is brilliant as Herbert Siskins as a corporate executive who tries to cover up a murder while plotting many things in the hope he would silence Stiller. Mascha Rabben is amazing as Eva Vollmer as the daughter of Professor Vollmer who is trying to figure out what happened to her father while befriending Stiller who she believes can help him while also being mysterious herself. Finally, there’s Klaus Lowitsch in an incredible performance as Fred Stiller as an engineer who finds himself trying to solve a murder where he questions his own self and existence as it’s a very engaging performance that has him be the every-man but also with some anguish and humor.

Welt am Draht is a tremendous film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Featuring a great cast, imaginative set designs, a provocative and enthralling premise, and a hypnotic soundtrack. It’s a film that definitely plays against the conventional aspects of sci-fi while also delving into massive themes of self-being and the world that people live in whether it’s reality or fantasy. In the end, Welt am Draht is a spectacular film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder Than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - The Merchant of Four Seasons - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day - (Jailbait) - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) - Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) - The Marriage of Maria Braun - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - Lola (1981 film) - Veronika Voss - Querelle

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