This week MoMA
New York unearths a hidden gem from the archive of German cinema’s most badly behaved enfant terrible, the inspired New Wave filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (infamous director of The Marriage of Maria Braun
). From April 14 through 19, the museum will screen Fassbinder’s surreal and rarely seen 1973 sci-fi film World on a Wire
(Welt am Draht), originally made as a two-part series for German TV. Based on the novel Simulacron-3
by Daniel F. Galouye—one of the first writers to discuss the concept of virtual reality—the story unfolds as a research scientist mysteriously dies and his second-in-command, Dr. Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch,) is elected to take over his work on an artificial world made up of programmed projections of human beings. Strange apparitions and headaches begin to afflict Dr. Stiller (signaled in the film by squalling from an analog synthesizer), and when people begin disappearing into thin air, he decides to investigate. The film’s Ken Adam–style futuristic sets, mix of Wiemar-esque cabaret costumes and 70s-utopia fashion, and dizzying cinematography create an electrifying journey for what is essentially a very heated philosophical debate on human existence. As Fassbinder put it at the time: “Perhaps another, larger world has made us as a virtual one?” Today’s clip is an excerpt from the newly restored version of the film, art-directed by original cinematographer and frequent Fassbinder collaborator Michael Ballhaus. The DVD version of World On a Wire
, released by Second Sight
on May 17, will be accompanied by a documentary on its restoration.