If you think the world’s in a panic now, you haven’t seen Rainer Fassbinder’s 1973 cult sci-fi gem, World on a Wire, a classic of German weltpanik currently screening at MoMA for a precious few days (through 4/19). Made for German TV when the director was only 27, the two-part thriller explores age-old metaphysical questions—which have preoccupied everyone from Plato to the Wachowski brothers—with a story about a supercomputer-generated alternate universe that turns out to be no more artificial than the “real” world running it. At its center is a brooding engineer, played by hunky Klaus Löwitsch (watch for his wet whitey-tighties in one pool scene), who finds out too much. Meanwhile, a gaggle of fantastic women play foil to his Iron Man: Barbara Valentin as a buxom secretary, vampiric Margit Carstensen (who a year later would play the lead role in Fassbinder’s glorious Martha) and blonde stunner Mascha Rabben, bringing to mind a healthier-looking Eva Herzigova.
But while the ladies are scorching and the dystopian plot rings eerily fresh in our own era of detachment, it’s the production design that will blow your mind. Ultra-mod sets—a mix of 70’s kitsch and Italian high-style—serve as the backdrop to posey tableaux that could be a subliminal mood board for Tom Ford’s old Gucci campaigns. And in a boon for fashion lovers, the women are dressed in a riot of billowing sleeves and other 70’s follies seemingly lifted straight from and an Yves Saint Laurent runway, but here over-styled for a heightened, almost lurid effect. These girls wear black sequins to the office, don widow veils and have a weakness for anything diaphanous. It’s the work of the amazing Gabriele Pillon, the film’s costume designer and one of the few people who worked on this movie still with us today.