World on a Wire ★★★★½

Fassbinder gets the jump on decades of philosophical sci-fi with this miniseries. His penchant for reflective surfaces and obscuring glass is taken to an early extreme here, with countless shots incorporating reflections into blocking or framing characters through glass that often warps dimensions and even at its least intrusive makes it clear that everyone is being watched. (The adjective "cinematic" is used freely and almost always emptily in current discussions of TV, but Fassbinder, like the other European auteurs who experimented on the small-screen, comes closest to cinema by expressly foregrounding the format of their television productions with an aesthetic that shows them adapting to its different demands and even the implications of its alternate screen.)

There's way too much to unpack in its mire of what-is-real paranoia, which runs far deeper than, say, THE MATRIX's action-movie setups or even BLADE RUNNER's fairly obvious stance on whether Deckard is a replicant. But what stands out on a first viewing is the sheer bravura of the filmmaking (televisionmaking?). Late in the first part, a scene set inside a discotheque that is already primed for rave tracks a buxom woman as she slips through an undulating mass of shirtless, muscled flesh in a moment that combines the "Anyone Here for Love" number from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES with a kind of pre-Almodovar vision. The second part gets briefly sidetracked and entranced by a stage show that appears to have emerged from Weimer Germany via a time warp, complete with a Dietrich-esque diva in a role that sees her checking her lipstick in the reflection of the sword an officer uses to order her death by firing squad (HOW was that image not actually in a Dietrich movie, or was it?)

Even on extremely grainy 16mm, this looks superb in its restoration, full of futuristic neon blues and pinks, and consistently framed every way but the one you'd expect. There's an early shot of the protagonist and one of his love interests standing in an apartment next to one of those vanity walls that's more a divider than a full demarcation of rooms. Pockmarked with gaps in its glass "bricks," the wall, seen at the very edge of frame, resembles film sprockets as the two characters converse. Dips into simulated worlds (and similar giveaways that the "real" world might have issues of its own) are also handled not with convoluted special effects but something as simple as text type on-screen or off-kilter framing or even a switch to camera-negative.

One last, small note that I'd develop more if I ever really wrote on this: I love that the use of simulated worlds to predict the future is used not to avoid wars or other conflicts but simply to predict consumer models. God I love this movie.