#851 Fox and His Friends
1975 // Germany // Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Criterion Collection (LINK)
Provocative, but at times elusive, West German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s oeuvre is both quantitatively and qualitatively remarkable in his short of forty years life span. Fox and His Friend is more or less situated in the middle of his oeuvre, a film that retains his earlier detaching yet stylistic artificiality while offering a new perspective on sexuality and powerful emotion rawness. First and foremost, Fox and His Friends is a homosexual film not about homosexuality. There are preceding films that tackle homosexuality as the theme of the narrative, presented as the problem faced by the characters or functioned as a plot device. In Fox and His Friends, homosexuality is both explicit (Fassbinder didn’t shy away his frontal nudity while portraying the titular character “Fox, the Speaking Head”) and implicit like an unobtrusive background. The gay community had despised the depiction of the greedy homosexuals in the film, but all Fassbinder did is to use the subject as a canvas in which he illustrates his obsessive and perpetual theme of exploitation of love.
Franz Biberkopf, played by a slender version of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is a working class homosexual rent-boy who loses his job in the carnival when his boss and boyfriend Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud. He even loses his remaining money for his weekly lottery ticket in a series of comedic events. But his luck emerges once he met the older antique-furniture dealer Max (Karlheinz Böhm) at a public lavatory. He wins $500,000, gets introduced into Max’s circle of bourgeoisie, and meets his new boyfriend Eugen (Peter Chatel). There’re always sadistic and masochistic elements in the love-and-sexual relationships depicted in Fassbinder’s films, no matter they’re heter- or homosexual, for instance the lesbian relationship between Petra and Karin in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) or Querelle and his numerous partners in Querelle (1982). One is always on the upper hand and the other is the one being oppressed and exploited.
“Money is power”, Franz’s lottery money brings him the power of bourgeoisie, but does it mean Franz achieves the same status? He lends $100,000 to Eugen for saving the bookbinding factory of Eugen’s father (Adrian Hoven) from bankruptcy, in returns gaining partnership once the financial crisis is over. He pays for the luxury two-floor apartment shared by him and Eugen, Eugen’s beloved antique furniture from Max, as well as the splendor suits and garments from the clothing shop owned by Eugen’s ex-boyfriend Philip (Harry Baer). The materialistic living style is far from pleasure for Franz, Eugen disdains Franz’s taste for music and lack of manners (several dining-table scenes, mainly Franz with Eugen and Eugen’s family, illustrates the huge differences of table manner, thus the fundamental difference between the two distinct classes, while providing a comic relief), and Franz is continuously humiliated. As Fassbinder explained in the 1975 interview “The film is about the impossibility of totally escaping the class into which you were born, the impossibility for someone who comes from the working class to be truly accepted by the bourgeoisie, even if he has the thing that matters most to them: money.”
On the other hand, Danish critic and director Christian Braad Thomson stated that in Fox and His Friends “love is seen as a commodity that can be bought for money and lasts only as long as it is profitable.” All leads to the despairing conclusion, without falling into Marxism, that the class distinction cannot be dissolved with capital, and love could only be temporarily bought. The pessimistic ending is undeniably without redemption, in which the lifeless body of Fox lying on the ground and his name-sewn jacket being stolen. Fox is metaphorically Icarus who flies too close to the sun (the boundary between classes), his wax wings melt (all his money are spent) and eventually fells to demise. Fortunately, Fassbinder never stopped from here, he continued to make films, good or bad, until the day he fell and became a legend.