Tag Archives: Fassbinder

DTCV’s Film Jukebox

DTCV © Mike Postalaki

California-based DTCV (pronounced Detective) features French singer Lola G and ex-Guided by Voices guitarist James Greer, who met at a party in the Hollywood hills and bonded over Super-Fuzz pedals. They have just released their latest album Confusion Moderne via Dead Meadow’s Xemu Records, and describe their sound as ‘Françoise Hardy fronting Buzzcocks’, mixing classic French pop, garage, 60s yé-yé and post-punk. Below, Lola G chooses her 10 favourite films directed by women.

1. Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi, Agnès Varda, 1985)
I love everything Agnès Varda has done but this one especially. It’s raw, visceral and Sandrine Bonnaire is incredible in it. Some of the scenes in our ‘Bourgeois Pop’ video were a reference to this film.

Continue reading DTCV’s Film Jukebox

Stevan Alcock is not Veronika Voss

Veronika Voss

Stevan Alcock is a writer, editor and translator. Originally from Yorkshire, he lived in Berlin for many years, before returning to England to study for a BA in German, and an MA on contemporary prose fiction. His debut novel, Blood Relatives (4th Estate), set in 1970s Leeds, is a dark, daring, funny coming-of-age story, vibrant with family secrets and hidden identities, punk and gay liberation, all overshadowed by the horror of the Yorkshire ripper. He is fascinated by Rosel Zech as the butterfly-like Veronika Voss. Eithne Farry

When I first saw Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss in 1982, I had been living in Berlin for nearly 18 months. I was captivated by Rosel Zech as the washed-up eponymous film star, just as Robert, the reporter in the film who chances upon her in a bar, is also captivated by her residual beauty.

Shot in black and white, the film is set is in the mid-50s. Veronika reminisces to Robert of a time before the war, when her fame shone brightly; but in the new post-war West Germany she is all but forgotten, broke and drug-dependent. An echo, surely, of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Robert visits Veronika at her villa, where the furniture is covered with white sheets, with candles everywhere as the electricity has been disconnected, although she tells him – and herself – that the candles are there ‘because they are so much more flattering to a woman.’

Veronika is a patient of the nasty and parasitic Dr Katz and her accomplices, who keep Veronika dependent on morphine, take possession of her will and drain her of her wealth until she has nothing left. Their clinic is all clean white and glass; indeed, the other patients wait behind walls of glass. The clinic could be seen as an allegory of the chilling, clean aesthetic of the new West Germany.

Zech plays Veronika Voss with compelling melodramatic tragedy, subsisting on the self-delusion of a past grandeur that was in fact Nazi Germany. She brings a luminosity and depth to what is, frankly, a shaky and porous plot.

Robert uncovers the truth behind the façade of the clinic and, assisted by his journalist sidekick Henriette, they seek to rescue Veronika. But it goes wrong: Henriette is killed and Veronika, trapped by her dependency like a pinned butterfly, is abandoned by the quack doctors. Without morphine, Veronika takes an overdose of sleeping pills and is found dead a few days later.

Fassbinder’s films often featured the mannered and decadent in moments of decline. His characters are caught up in their own obsessions and self-delusional needs; they echo our own fears. Fassbinder himself was often terrified of failing utterly.

Zech claimed it was a mystical experience working with Fassbinder: ‘He was giving something away all the time,’ she said, ‘you felt loved and cherished’.

Veronika Voss won the Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear award in 1982. Fassbinder’s death shortly afterwards – like Zech’s character, from an overdose – was a blow to Zech, who had envisaged further collaborations. Instead, she retreated into lesser roles on German television and never again hit the heights she had achieved with Fassbinder and Veronika Voss. Zech’s name became so synonymous with the film that she found herself frequently reminding people, ‘I am not Veronika Voss’.

Stevan Alcock

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

Format: DVD

Release date: 17 May 2010

Distributor: Second Sight

Directors: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writers: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Fritz Müller-Scherz

Original title: Welt am Draht

Based on the novel Simulacron 3 by: Daniel F Galouye

Cast: Klaus Löwitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Wolfgang Schenck, Günter Lamprecht, Ulli Lommel

Germany 1973

2 x 102 mins

First screened on German television in 1973, Fassbinder’s sci-fi two-part series World on a Wire revolves around the computer game nature of virtual reality. It may come as a bit of a shock to modern viewers who think of this concept as relatively new – having perhaps first encountered it in the ‘cyberpunk’ novels of the 1980s or in films from Tron (1982) to The Matrix (1999) – to realise that it has actually been around for four decades. Perhaps modern viewers inevitably link computer games with VR, assuming the two arrived simultaneously, but writers such as Ray Bradbury, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K Dick and Daniel F Galouye, who penned the novel that World on a Wire is based on, had already been developing the concept in the 1950s and 60s. For the sake of confining this argument to ‘virtual reality’ as we define it today, I won’t go back as far as Plato and his cave.

In World on a Wire, as in The Matrix and TV series like Ashes to Ashes and Lost, there is a double philosophical quandary at the heart of the drama, specifically concerning the nature of the reality the characters perceive to be real and questions about one’s own identity within a world that may not exist. Indeed, the Wachowski brothers, though they didn’t like to discuss their own films, were very happy that The Matrix trilogy inspired much philosophical debate (however sophomoric that debate might have been).

Interestingly, almost every example of films and TV series about virtual environments also uses elements from action films, perhaps because whenever a character finds out they are in a simulation and are being watched, they feel paranoid and hunted, and inevitably go on the run. So as well as being an early example of the VR genre, Fassbinder’s mini-series has scenes familiar from the likes of The Fugitive and Alfred Hitchcock’s prototype action films The 39 Steps, North by Northwest and Vertigo. Indeed, the latter does deal with a character who simulates another ‘real’ person’s identity.

It is difficult to discuss the central themes of World on a Wire without mentioning the twist/cliffhanger at the end of part one of – something I guessed within 10 minutes of the start of the mini-series due to my familiarity with the tropes of the sub-genre – so if you don’t want to know the nature of this twist, please skip to the end of the review.


As I already knew that World on a Wire was about virtual reality, the director’s use of blank, staring models made me realise fairly quickly that the world the central character believes to be real is in fact a simulation, and that those vacuous extras are also virtuals whose personality is ‘under-programmed’ in comparison to the lead – like the infected humans in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (any version), who become devoid of emotions when taken over/replaced by alien doppelgä;ngers. We indeed find out that the lead character and his world are both virtual, but also that in the world we are first confronted with, there is a further simulation – a simulation within a simulation. The virtual characters are studying the behaviour of artificial life, so they can predict events in the ‘real’ world.

There are similar simulations within simulations in The Matrix – white voids where Neo does his combat training for example – and in Mamoru Oshii’s underrated Avalon, where each ‘level’ of reality is more colourful and ‘realistic’ than the last. The last of Kôji Suzuki’s Ring books, Loop, deals with a similar concept of worlds within virtual worlds, which might seem too strange a shift in direction for the franchise, even to audiences familiar with The Matrix – the book has yet to be filmed and I don’t expect it will be the basis for The Ring 3D, due in 2012.

In World on a Wire, even if the twist is predictable to modern viewers, the revelation that the lead character is a copy of someone from a higher level of reality still feels fresh, as it is an intriguing philosophical concept that not enough science fiction films have dealt with. When Galouye’s Simulacron 3, which World on a Wire was based on, was filmed again more recently as The Thirteenth Floor, the virtual world was clearly delineated as being different from the real world right from the start (by being shown as a film noir / 1940s simulation). Conversely, in the original novel and adaptation, all three worlds are broadly similar, and it is only the characters’ perceptions of what is real or legitimate as far as their existence is concerned that differentiates the different layers of reality, something that has greater profundity and disturbing potential compared to other examples of the genre.


While certain aspects of World on a Wire were designed to create a world that seemed unusual at the time – such as shooting many scenes in the shopping malls and newly built developments of Paris, which were unfamiliar to viewers in 1970s Germany – there are continuing tropes from Fassbinder’s own oeuvre that mark it out as simply his style of filmmaking. For example, the idiosyncratic sound design and overtly ‘theatrical’ performances from some of the cast and extras do create the feeling of a world inhabited by ‘the other’, when viewed in isolation and without having seen many of the director’s other films. Ironically, it’s these idiosyncrasies that give the series a science fiction feeling, rather than his conscious efforts to shoot in ‘alien’ locations. From a current perspective, all 1970s European architecture seems broadly similar, and this is both a blessing and a curse to filmmakers who want to create a futuristic world by seeking out the modern locations of their time. Michael Winterbottom’s use of a global architectural collage in Code 46 and Jean-Luc Godard’s choice of brutalist architecture in Alphaville to create a Paris of the future have quickly dated (Fassbinder was a fan of Godard and acknowledges his debt to Alphaville by giving Eddie Constantine a cameo in World on a Wire).

Viewing World on a Wire in May 2010 is a strangely appropriate experience. Despite its age, the film still seems fresh, and this combination is unsettling to modern viewers. Although a little slow overall – in part due to the fact that it was conceived as two two-hour-long parts with commercials, which makes the first episode seem padded – it is continuously engaging, intriguing and suitably strange, thanks to the performances and the director’s use of disorientating camera angles as well as shots framed with mirrors reflecting other mirrors. As an early example of a genre, it’s interesting to note that it has almost exactly the same ending as the final episode of Lost (and as the co-creators of Lost, who wrote that episode, are refusing to give any more interviews on the subject, I guess we’ll never find out if they’re fans of Fassbinder).

It has recently been reported that scientists have successfully created artificial life, albeit on the level of microbes; extrapolating this into the potential for the creation of artificial human intelligence, it’s interesting to speculate whether the creation of virtual worlds where human visitors can interact with virtual humans will lead to environments that are indistinguishable from our own, or ones that let us holiday in outré retro or futuristic environments. Certainly, the idea that such a world might be created first for its potential to influence the activities of big business as in World on a Wire seems a very likely one.

Alex Fitch