World on a Wire (Fassbinder, 1973) and a new DCP short film

After a long hiatus that has yielded a lot of footage shot and 6 days in the digital can for a new short film titled Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday it seems an appropriate time to write about R.W. Fassbinder, in film that should make Matrix fans (and yours truly is one) cower in shame.

But first, a selfish post.  Over the previous week I’ve shot, with the assistance of some awesome former students, several great locations in Philadelphia, and a lot of gifted actors, my first short film in over 4 years, and my first narrative work since Second-Story Man.

I don’t want to give too much away, as I’m hoping that this is a somewhat unique narrative approach, but suffice to say that we shot about 18 minutes of narrative in the six day span, used all natural light, and generally operated with a 2-3 person crew.  This marks the first time I’ve ever run sound and directed at the same time, and it made me appreciate Scott Lancer and Rick Staropoli – my producers – even more.   As I dive into post I’ll update with the occasional still frame or clip.  Expect more come late-July and into August.

Big thanks are owed to the crew of Nate Breton, Sarah Roethke, Greg Fallon, Derek Muller, Katie Sciandro, Chi Hwan Moon and Paul Hinson for their incredible, tireless work.  And there’s no forgetting Andy Watts for co-writing!

Philly came through in a big way location-wise, with, Sandi Vincenti and Tim Patton hooking me up with an awesome warehouse to shoot in, not to mention the generosity of Nina’s Trattoria on 9th Street (check it out for some great Sicilian food), my parents for letting me use their place in Abington, and Cedar Hill Park in Horsham with its beautiful old well.  Abby Kessler at Smak Parlour (great boutique on 2nd Market) and Suzanne Mooney at Hyperion Bank on West Girard were also both particularly hospitable.

And of course our cast – Christopher Domig, Lindsay Goranson, Ken Cohen, Nicholas Groch, Lauren Ojeda, Christopher Dalbey, Jim Wirsz and Jim Vincenti – all of whom nailed the parts.

Here are a few stills.

This one’s about as romantic as I get (with Lauren Ojeda and Nicholas Groch):

Christopher Dalbey thinking things through:

A slightly disheveled Ken Cohen:

Officer Vincenti laying down the law:

Christopher Domig and Lindsay Goranson doing what anyone at this park would do – look into an awesome stone well:

That’s all she wrote for now.  Stay tuned…

World on a Wire:

I don’t make outrageous claims (such as inventing the question mark) like this frequently, but anyone that doesn’t like Fassbinder has serious issues and should reconsider their life.

Not only was he unbelievably prolific, but he worked across several genres, had a distinct and recognizable aesthetic (if you’ve seen his Berlin Alexanderplatz can you really ever look at a shiny ol’ lamp the same way?) and was, for my money, the strongest voice arising in what is commonly known as German New Cinema.  That’s right, even up against the likes of now-cult icon Herzog, and the enigmatic, glasses-clad Wenders, Fassbinder comes out on top.

I waited for some time for the Criterion to release World on a Wire and it didn’t disappoint.  A two part mini-series, World on a Wire precedes the philosophical science-fiction likes of The Matrix, eXistenz and even Blade Runner.  If it has any antecedent it may well be Godard’s 1965 head-trip Alphaville, which is perhaps particularly appropriate as the ending of World on a Wire seems to fall directly in line with the ending of Godard’s (for my money) masterpiece, Contempt.

In a sub-universe world (complete with that telephone booth transportation from The Matrix), Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) is the lone self-aware protagonist, operating in a world that might not be the true world.  Shifting his usual paranoid small-town operatics into a paranoid cold corporate mise-en-scene, Fassbinder tugs at his effective chords of misfit identity and a German society that places false idols (whether they be stereotypical veneers, puppet governments, or simply, as in here, a fake world) over a tangible culture.

At work are the director’s fondness for the still, near freeze-frame tableau, mirror shots, and glaring highlights in the image that at once point to reality (this is how light would reflect) and fiction (this is how light would reflect when viewed through a camera lens).

Forgive the found-on-web images, but here are a few stills to give an idea of the visuals.

Fassbinder’s fondness for oddly balanced frames and obscuring foreground material:

The production design, in a rare move here from cool to warm color temperature:

Again, shooting through obtrusive material, a cold color balance:

Probably the most “Fassbinder-like” frame to me.  Shallow depth of field renders those glasses in the foreground mere sparkles.  The flame frame left flickers to draw our attention away from the action at hand.  The actors are surrounded and confined:

Here’s the trailer.  There’s plenty to remark on.  Fassbinder’s penchant, as again with Berlin Alexanderplatz, for a flat, emotionless voice.  Check out the second shot, starting at 0:10.  The low angle, the wide-angle lens, the foreground and confinement as mentioned earlier are all vintage Fassbinder.

Fassbinder’s blocking and performances are all rather self-aware, operating generally between one of two extremes – flat or melodramatic (check out our foreground guy at 1:09).  It’s no stretch to say that Almodovar takes a cue from his intentional over-blocking: moving his actor’s around for disorientation and to add a kinetic, surreal feel.  Would anyone be surprised if Cronenberg had made something like this early in his career?

Lastly, look at the shot beginning at 1:36 (see El Hedi ben Salem from Ali: Fear Eats the Soul there?).  Imagine that dolly move continuing – it combines the campy, burlesque feel of a Lola from the BRD Trilogy, with his noirish American Soldier, against a hazy night-club and flatly blocked characters.  Classic Fassbinder.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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