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DVD review: ‘World on a Wire’

Klaus Lowitsch as Fred Stiller in “World On a Wire,” released on DVD by Criterion.
(Courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Despair,” “The Marriage of Maria Braun”) directed more than 40 features and substantial TV projects between the age of 24 and his death at 37. So it’s not surprising that some of them fell between the cracks in America. Among them is the 1973 “World on a Wire” (Welt am Draht), a two-part TV movie based on Daniel F. Galouye’s science-fiction novel “Simulacron 3,” about virtual reality. This was a quarter of a century before the VR movie boom, which included, within little more than a year, “Dark City,” “The Matrix,” “Existenz” and “The Thirteenth Floor” (that last a moodier, pared-down adaptation of the same book).

It was recently restored and played at specialty venues like LACMA; now Criterion has brought it to Blu-ray and DVD. It’s different enough in approach from “The Thirteenth Floor” to be worth watching for that film’s fans. Despite the restoration, indoor scenes are often swimming with grain, and the sound occasionally distorts — neither of which is surprising for a 3 1/2-hour TV film shot in 44 days almost 40 years ago.

The main extras are “Fassbinder’s World on a Wire: Looking Ahead to Today,” a 50-minute 2010 German documentary by Juliane Lorenz about the production and the restoration, including interviews with several of the surviving participants, most notably cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (“Goodfellas”); and an equally informative half-hour 2011 interview (in English) with Fassbinder expert Gerd Gemunden.

“World on a Wire” (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; 2-disc DVD, $29.95)


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).