Second Time Around

World on a Wire
Walnut-headed engineer Karl Lswitsch makes some disturbing discoveries while supervising a computerized "artificial miniature world" of some 9,000 "identity units." Colleagues die mysteriously or disappear, and the unit named Einstein is undermining the engineer's faith in his own universe. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's intriguing two-part science-fiction film takes its time in setting up its premise in Part 1, paying it off handsomely in an onslaught of vertiginous paranoia in Part 2. While parallels to this obscure work -- made for German TV in 1973 and never before seen in America -- can be found in such Euro sci-fi as Godard's Alphaville and Tarkovsky's Solaris, or in the reality-testing writings of Philip K. Dick, World on a Wire is in fact based on a work by a much-less-known American writer, Daniel F. Galouye, and takes many visual cues from Fritz Lang's filmed essays in fear, notably the Dr. Mabuse series. Of course Fassbinder's own concerns surface here, notably his interest in the social control of the many by the few, but it's interesting how much of the film's impact is dependent on the workings of the genre rather than Fassbinder's detail work. Perhaps we're distracted by the German auteur's notorious scruffy, beady-eyed persona; in this case his personal touches are secondary. While it's amusing to hear Ingrid Caven sing "Lili Marlene" while acting out a scene from Sternberg's Dishonored (anticipating Fassbinder's later film Lili Marleen), what World on a Wire is about is not a director's self-referentiality but a world's nonexistence.

-- Gregg Rickman

World on a Wire screens Thursday, July 31, at 7 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Tickets are $5.50; call (510) 642-1124. The film also screens at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120.

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