A Love Letter to RWF

Welt Am Draht: from film to song

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Taylor Clarke; modified by Roger Owsley

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Taylor Clarke; modified by Roger Owsley

Dirty/Clean – Welt Am Draht (click for more details)

The first film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder that I had the honor of viewing was Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Ever since then, I have been under the spell of an unquenchable obsession—an obsession with the man I firmly believe to be the most important figure in latter twentieth century cinema. This obsession resulted in numerous sleepless nights, spent devouring film after film from his canon; I would rabidly seek the next hard-to-find entry, and when I finally did drift off to sleep, it was with a burning desire to converse about the images and ideas it exposed to me. Unfortunately, this was not always an easy task to fulfill: many viewers find it difficult to get past the “enfant terrible” aspect of Fassbinder’s demeanor, or the sometimes challenging nature of his films, and so many of the things which clung to me were impossible to communicate to the uninitiated. So I found my mind overwhelmed by passions and ideas—all of which I knew to be valid, but few of which I was able to translate in everyday language.

Enter Welt Am Draht (or World on a Wire, as it is known to English-speaking audiences): adapted from a sci-fi novel by Daniel F. Galouye, Fassbinder’s 1973 television miniseries is a recently rediscovered masterpiece. With a visual stylization that nods more than slightly in the direction of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, Welt Am Draht is a comparably prescient depiction of a future society in which everything is a virtual facsimile of reality (or a “simulacron”), and nothing means much of anything—or vice versa, for that matter. Though definitely an anomaly when compared to the subject matter of a number of Fassbinder’s other films, this particular entry appears to me the ultimate and (perhaps) most accessible distillation of his theories on humanity and society. In Welt Am Draht, Fassbinder presents a world in which people have no genuine control over their own lives—because in the reality that underlines the film’s central caprice, they have no lives to speak of. They are all just ideas of an idea, empty frames upon an empty frame.

A concept that is pivotal to Fassbinder’s overwhelming body of work is the fallacy of individual sovereignty: in practically all of his films, Fassbinder paints his characters as humans responding to environmental and societal stressors, their actions shaped by the criticisms and expectations of the people surrounding them. With this in mind, the premise of Welt Am Draht can be seen as the ultimate extension of this ideology—a glimpse inside a future where everyone reacts to environmental stimuli and social controls that have no actual basis in reality (much like the world of social media, which we presently find ourselves buried beneath). In such a society, humans will struggle to find a place for archaic emotions such as love and friendship, and their occasional revelation to us will be as wild flowers in a desert landscape.

The album I have written and recorded under the moniker Dirty/Clean (titled Welt Am Draht) is, simply put, my love letter to Rainer Werner Fassbinder—a filmmaker who was also an avid music devotee, with a special fondness for Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, and Scott Walker. It is my attempt to communicate some of the passion his films have instilled within me, and it is directed towards anyone who might be willing to listen: consider it my attempt to plant a wild flower in this desert landscape. I only hope that it brings the listener a fraction of the joy, excitement, confusion, and affection that were inspired in me by this giant of modern cinema. Then, perhaps, the listener might be inspired to seek and find for him/herself the countless treasures that are hidden within the marvelous house of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

In loving memory of
RWF, 1945-1982

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