Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder | 205 minutes | crime | Actors: Klaus Löwitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Wolfgang Schenck, Günter Lamprecht, Ulli Lommel, Adrian Hoven, Ivan Desny, Joachim Hansen, Kurt Raab, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John, Rudolf Lenz, Lilo Pempeit , Heinz Meier, Peter Chatel, Rainer Hauer, Ernst Küsters, El Hedi ben Salem, Karl Scheydt, Solange Pradel, Bruce Low, Elma Karlowa, Maryse Dellanoy, Werner Schroeter, Magdalena Montezuma, Christine Kaufmann, Rainer Langhans, Corinna Brocher, Dora Karras -Frank, Katrin Schaake, Peter Gauhe, Christine Maybach, Walter Sedlmayr, Eddie Constantine, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Peter Kern, Karsten Peters, Peter Moland, Doris Mattes
“Welt am Draht” is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s two-part television adaptation of Daniel Galouye’s novel Simulacron-3. The TV movie dates back to 1973 and a restored version has been available since 2010. The original images have been digitized and refreshed, making them available to a whole new audience. Whether “Welt am Draht” some four decades later can be regarded as a masterpiece saved from oblivion or an outdated curiosity by Fassbinder is now the question. The current generation of viewers will tell a story about virtual worlds and “what is reality?” quickly compared to the overrated “The Matrix” trilogy, which was little more than a mishmash of other films and books on the subject, wrapped in a digital action spectacle with a touch of Eastern martial arts, led by the lovable but walking surfboard Keanu Reeves. Main character Fred Stiller (played by Klaus Löwitsch) dives into the virtual world with the help of a special helmet and is brought back into a telephone booth that he must reach on time. It is surprising to see these elements popularized by “The Matrix” in a German television production from thirty years earlier.
Less surprising but revealing is that ‘Welt am Draht’, with a much smaller budget and virtually no resources for special effects, let alone digital animation, works out the sci-fi of virtual reality and the associated philosophical and psychological issues much more satisfyingly. . Namely, with patience, powerful cinematography and no flying monsters. Fassbinder and cameraman Michael Ballhaus do their utmost to make the TV movie look as visually enchanting as possible: with telephoto lenses, wide-angle lenses, remarkable camera positions, sophisticated framing and lots of mirrors. At least once we can catch a glimpse of Fassbinder himself in such a mirror or see very clearly the shadow of the camera on a forest hut and are thus reminded that ‘Welt am Draht’ is not a slick big production, but it is with an author’s film bordering on enthusiasm. Fassbinder does not allow itself to be restricted in a purely cinematic field: although no computer-enabled bullet time and a circling “virtual camera” as in ‘The Matrix’, but a scene in which the camera floats so beautifully around Stiller, in conversation with a journalist, keeps spinning that it gains admiration. Cinematographically, not all very original, but very artfully and effectively applied.
The whole results in an extremely stylistic film that, in combination with the deliberately clinical and artificial atmosphere and a gathered cast of professional actors and seventies hip figures from the German artist environment, interspersed with some muscular semi-naked guys (a fascination of Fassbinder), a bizarre and sometimes a bit dated impression. However, to dismiss “Welt am Draht” as just a curiosity would not do justice to this fascinating psychological science fiction thriller.