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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • German PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Fassbinder's "World on a Wire": Looking Ahead to Today, a fifty-minute documentary about the making of the film by Juliane Lorenz
  • New interview with German-film scholar Gerd Gemünden
  • Trailer for the 2010 theatrical release

World on a Wire

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1973 | 212 Minutes | Licensor: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #598
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 21, 2012
Review Date: March 10, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

World on a Wire is a gloriously paranoid, boundlessly inventive take on the future from German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With dashes of Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick, as well as a flavor entirely his own, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of a reluctant action hero, Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch), a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate conspiracy. At risk? (Virtual) reality as we know it. Originally made for German television, this recently rediscovered, three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema's kinkiest geniuses.

Forum members rate this film 8.3/10

 

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PICTURE

Rainier Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire makes its debut on home video in North America courtesy of this new Blu-ray (and a simultaneous DVD edition) from Criterion, who present the film in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc with a new 1080p/24hz transfer.

Despite the fact Criterion has decided to jam 5 hours’ worth of material here, a time that includes the supplements, the transfer for the film, divided over two parts, looks quite wonderful. There’s some minor noisiness in how it renders the film’s grain structure at times (and the film can get fairly grainy) but in all it’s stable and clean. The picture’s sharpness varies, looking a little mushy during some scenes but then sharp and distinct in others, but I feel it’s a combination of the materials and the film’s very distinct look and has nothing to do with the actual transfer. Colours are also vividly rendered, blues looking especially good and jumping off of the screen. Blacks are a little mixed, a little washed or crushed at moments but overall I found them pleasing. And despite the fact the print was tucked away somewhere for decades it’s in excellent condition and other than the stray hair (or “fuzzballs” as director of photography Michael Ballhaus calls them in the documentary included with this release) I can’t recall a truly noticeable blemish.

I admit to being a little worried as to how the 203-minute film would look but they pulled it off and I couldn’t detect any compression problems. Other than a soft look to the film, which again looks to either be a condition of the materials or is part of the film’s intended look, and those “fuzzballs” this looks surprisingly gorgeous.

8/10

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AUDIO

Maybe it’s the fact the film was made for television and the equipment used was of a cheaper quality, but the film’s German linear PCM 1.0 mono track sounds incredibly flat. Dialogue is clear and sound effects sound fine, and other than a purposely distorted high-pitched squeal that occurs on occasion it’s a clean track. But there’s no depth or fidelity to it, and everything, whether voices or effects, do sound to be mostly on the same level.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Only a few supplements are included, beginning with a rather strong 34-minute interview with German film scholar Gerd Gemünden filmed for this edition. Here he looks at World on a Wire and how it fits into Fassbinder’s body of work. He examines the film and its distinct style and points out all the obvious Fassbinder touches. He also spends time talking about the cast, made up of a variety of actors from different eras of German cinema, and talks about the distinct styles of acting present in the film. He also goes over some notes that Fassbinder wrote about the film but he is unsure how the director actually felt about the finished product, and he explains why this film was made for TV (Fassbinder liked the idea of a wider audience since there weren’t many options on television at the time.) He also talks about the book, Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galyoue, and makes comparisons between it and the film, which are apparently very close to one another. A thorough and rather engaging interview, Gemünden covers a vast number of subjects and offers an interesting analysis overall and he actually manages to make up for the lack of much else on this edition.

A little disappointing is the next supplement, a documentary from 2010 on the film called ”World on a Wire”: Looking Ahead to Today, which runs 51-minutes. Despite its length I must admit I found it a bit light and fluffy, though it does manage to gather together director of photography Michael Ballhaus, co-writer Fritz Müller-Scherz, and others. The more interesting aspects are where it goes over the early development process in getting the film made, which sounded to have been a little problematic: Fassbinder and company had to buy the rights to the novel with their own pay as the production company wouldn’t pony up the money for that, you know, the key piece you need to make the film. There’s also discussion about finding the right location to shoot the film since they wanted a slightly “futuristic” look (they settled on Paris, France) and the cast that was put together. There’s footage of Ballhaus helping out on what I assume is the restoration of the film (where he talks about those “fuzzballs!” that appear) and it does look, though vaguely, at how far ahead of its time the film was, but overall it’s a fairly general making-of when you break it down, and not a terribly intriguing one.

The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer for its recent theatrical run, and then the booklet comes with a fairly lengthy essay on the film by Ed Halter, which makes a nice companion to Gemünden’s interview.

It feels slim, and I could probably give-or-take the documentary, but admittedly I’m not sure what else could have been included here. As it is, though, it’s not a completely fulfilling selection of supplements but I at least found the Gemünden interview added some value to this edition.

5/10

CLOSING

It feels a little slim on supplements but Criterion’s presentation of the film is fantastic, a pleasant surprise since I was expecting some ill-effects because so much material is being jammed onto the disc, but I think Criterion has pulled it off nicely. The disc comes highly recommended.


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