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Monday, February 03, 2014

World on a Wire (1973) d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

World on a Wire is a movie version of this book, Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye

World on a Wire (1973)
d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Criterion Collection #598

  Fassbinder's made-for-german-tv version of the 60s pulp sci fi classic Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye was "rediscovered" in 2010, and this Criterion Collection edition followed.  The rerelease/discovery took place in Art house cinemas, and it was shot in 16 mm film, so it makes sense that Criterion Collection picked it for the DVD treatment.  Criterion Collection released the IFC series Fishing with John as one of its first releases, so they are hardly snobs about work shot for television vs. proper theatrically released films.

  Given the 1977 release date and thematic resemblance to world beating box office films like The Matrix, its tempting to call World on a Wire wildly influential, but that seems unlikely considering that the film was only "rediscovered" three years ago.  Rather it's a case of an astute selection of source material and the fact that the concept of "virtual reality" has really come into its own in all disciplines whether you are talking leisure, academics, literature.  I suspect that the central premise of World on a Wire: That we are all living inside a computer simulation, would scarcely cause someone to blink in 2013, let alone drive them insane.

  If you've seen the Matrix or have any familiarity with computer "games" like Second Life or World of Warcraft, you should be intimately familiar with the thought that we are all just living in some giant video game.  It is an idea that has been current in philosophical circles for a generation- Baudrillard's 1981 philosophical treatise, Simulacra and Simulation is over a generation old at this point.  The larger idea of the Simulacrum goes back in the English language to the 16th century, and has a lengthy history in art criticism that goes back centuries.

  Which is not to take away anything from Fassbinder or World on a Wire, but only to point out that the combination of rediscovery in 2010 and the older iterations of the Simulacrum in art theory make this movie less influential than it at first appears to be.  It is still a fun, crazy trip and the visual style has a lot of imitative/revival potential.

  The combination of film and source material is another interesting example of the boundaries of high and low art, and literary and genre fiction.  Simulacron-3 was published as straight up pulp fiction in 1964, in 2013 it is worth asking the question whether it might not be a literary classic.   In many ways, the literary treatment of comic books has gobbled up all the oxygen for any serious audience interest in the reclassification of pulp science fiction from the 50s and 60s.  It is a project that Criterion Collection is tackling on the film side.  Perhaps some of the responsibility lies with the copyright/publishers of the original books.

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