The Euro Sci-Fi Gem “World on a Wire” (Welt am Draht) at EMPAC March 28

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s rarely screened science fiction thriller World on a Wire (Welt am Draht) is an adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s novel Simulacron-3. The original was thought lost but recently the film was reconstructed and restored, and showcases both the genius and the peculiarities of Fassbinder. Imagine his future world peopled by the same cabaret singers and archetypes he used in Genet’s Querelle. His work is always astonishing.

A scene from the 1973 film World on a Wire.

A scene from the 1973 film World on a Wire.

About the Film

Once again we have a provocative film. Here the filmmaker blurs the boundary between reality and simulation making what we think we see something that is ceaselessly questioned.

At the institute for cybernetics and future science (“Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung, IKZ”), a new supercomputer hosts a simulation program that includes an artificial world with over 9,000 “identity units” who live as human beings, unaware that their world is just a simulacron. Professor Vollmer, who is technical director of the program, is apparently on the verge of an incredible secret discovery. He becomes increasingly agitated and anti-social before dying in a mysterious accident. His successor, Dr. Fred Stiller, has a discussion with Günther Lause, the security adviser of the institute, when the latter suddenly disappears without trace, before passing on Vollmer’s secret to Stiller. More mysterious still is the fact that none of the other IKZ employees seem to have any memory of Lause.

Shot in 16 mm, the film was made for German television and originally aired in 1973, as a two-part miniseries. Starring Klaus Löwitsch, it was based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye.

Much is happening behind the lens of Fassbinder.

Much is happening behind the lens of Fassbinder.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder made an astonishing 44 movies—theatrical features, television movies, miniseries, and shorts among them—in a career that spanned a mere 16 years, ending with his death at 37 in 1982. He is perhaps best remembered for his intense and exquisitely shabby social melodramas (e.g., Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), which were heavily influenced by Hollywood films, especially the female-driven tearjerkers of Douglas Sirk, and featured misfit characters that often reflected his own fluid sexuality and self-destructive tendencies, but his body of work runs the gamut from epic period pieces (Berlin Alexanderplatz, the BRD Trilogy) to dystopic science fiction (World on a Wire). One particular fascination of Fassbinder’s was the way the ghosts of the past, specifically those of World War II, haunted contemporary German life—an interest that wedded him to many of the other artists of the New German Cinema movement, which began in the late 1960s.

Shadow Play is a series of films that tread nimbly between reality and illusion, acknowledging the artificial nature of cinema. Referencing the tradition of shadow puppetry, the origins of cinema in phantasmagoria, and Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” each film draws on the metaphors of light as reality and shadow as artifice.

In Plato’s The Republic, the allegory of the cave illustrates the difference between truth and illusion. Many writers have noted that “Allegory of the Cave” (written c. 360 BCE) bears great resemblance to the contemporary movie theater.

Tickets for this screening are $6.

Evelyn’s Café will open at 6:30 PM with a full menu of meals, snacks, and beverages as well as a selection of wines. Parking is available in the Rensselaer parking lot on College Avenue.

More information can be found on the EMPAC website: empac.rpi.edu. Questions? Call the EMPAC Box Office: 518.276.3921.

One thought on “The Euro Sci-Fi Gem “World on a Wire” (Welt am Draht) at EMPAC March 28

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