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Thirty years before The Matrix came this epic three-hour sci-fi head trip from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one of the more intriguing Blu-ray titles of recent months....
Criterion / 1973 / 212 Minutes / Unrated / Street Date: February 21, 2012
World on a Wire is a long film - perhaps too long - but even if it's an overinvolved lark on director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's part, it's a fascinating one. Fassbinder's telefilms aren't just extended stories, they're hyper-detail landscapes of ideas and cultural concepts: As oblique and aesthetically cheesy as it may sound, his longest films utilize their running time real estate appropriately.
And with this Blu-ray edition (Fassbinder's Criterion high-def debut), we don't necessarily find the filmmaker at his most profound - this ain't Berlin Alexanderplatz - but as this 3+ hour monster unfolds, one feels a gradual but snowballed pull toward its epicenter. In short, it sneaks up on you. Its glitzy camp sci-fi fever dream damnation of modern society is heady enough to inspire a doctoral dissertation, but like Fassbinder's greatest works, it instantly breathes life, presenting its idiosyncratic form with stunning authenticity.
In the movie, our protagonist, Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch), plays a cybernetics engineer who kinda sorta almost discovers a Matrix-esque corporate conspiracy. But Fassbinder isn't just interested in following Stiller's search toward the reality of life as we know it (or is it all virtual?) - no, the director has no interest in making things that easy on his character. Blending savvily understated satire with a paranoid world that would have left Philip K. Dick in a cold sweat, Fassbinder drudges up some exceptionally vivid material in World on a Wire. It's quite a juggling act.
Whether World on a Wire is major or minor Fassbinder is still up in the air - this was my second experience with it, and even with its occasional rough patches, I still love it - but Criterion has done a wonderful job bringing Rainer into the high-definition age with the title either way. World on a Wire may not be a picture that adheres to most viewers' tastes, but it's nevertheless a monolithic achievement, a movie that meanders and often confounds, but will stay with you for days.