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Fox And His Friends

Fox And His Friends

By Joaquin Villalobos • November 3rd, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (MOVIE)
City Film

Original release: June 6th, 1975
Running time: 123 minutes

Country of origin: West Germany
Original language: German

Writer and director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Composer: Peer Raben

Cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Karlheinz Böhm, Kurt Raab, El Hedi ben Salem

Fox And His Friends

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the notoriously bleak and sceptical filmmaker within Germany’s intriguing and tumultuous film history, creates a melodramatic allegory of trust and deception with Fox And His Friends.

He was one of the most prominent figures in the New German Cinema, a collective that adopted the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962 that was a formal declaration by young German filmmakers to establish a “new German feature film”, for “the old cinema is dead, and we believe in the new cinema.”

They outwardly rejected funding from Germany’s pre-existing film industry in favor of independence, avoiding any studio mandates that would guarantee its commercial investment at the expense of artistic expression.

However critical he was of his own country’s bourgeois ways and the surging capitalist ethic of post-war West Germany, Fassbinder was not dead-set on leaving the old cinema behind like his fellow contemporaries. He, in fact, aimed for a reconciliation of sorts between the styles of the past and the content of his present.

It’s no wonder he manifested a deep appreciation of theater director Bertolt Brecht, another German artist also interested in “re-functioning” his own medium for a new use of socio-political commentary. Fassbinder’s greatest strength as a filmmaker was in showing the social hypocrisies of post-war Germany using their traditional cinematic style to serve more modern, social concerns (Douglas Sirk, another German-born filmmaker and significant influence on Fassbinder, worked in Hollywood using this same approach).

Fox And His Friends

Fassbinder belonged to a nation that at the time had this clash between tradition and modernism built right into itself, a country divided between the East’s stubborn cling to a fading socialism and the West’s haste to escape the country’s troubled World War II past through economic reform.

Fox And His Friends opens on a vagrant showman and occasional prostitute named Franz (his nickname “Fox” emblazoned in rhinestones across his jean jacket) whose casual boyfriend has just been arrested for their illegal street circus performance. Briefly forced back into hooking, Franz meets Max while on the job, an antique dealer who offers him a ride to purchase a fateful, winning lottery ticket, sealing their introduction into something more momentous than a casual pick-up.

Now with half a million suddenly in his corner, Franz is quickly introduced to Max’s group of elitist and materialistic homosexual fast friends, men who take an immediate liking to Franz, or rather to the sweet smell of new money he exudes. He falls in love with Max’s young friend Eugen, the urbane, upper middle class son of a fledgling business owner.

Eugen is more than eager in returning a false love to gain proximity to Franz’s monetary prize, quickly persuading him to purchase a condo to live in together, unashamedly furnishing “their” apartment in tawdry, extravagant decor, and bloating his own wardrobe of ostentatious neckties and suits even further. Fox And His FriendsEugen’s true kiss of death (and Franz’s dumbest oversight) is deceiving him into investing his remaining riches behind the nearly bankrupt family business, precisely the opportunity Eugen was looking for.

For Franz, this is a seemingly fortuitous chance at a happier life offering connections to a bourgeois lifestyle. Of course, all Eugen’s attempts to groom Franz’s working-class roughness into snobbish elegance never take, his imposed cultural “refinement” and forced affinity to the upper echelon only serving his own materialist visage. You can’t teach an old tramp new tricks, and as Eugen’s feigned emotional interest in Franz begins to strain thin, so does his family business’ ability to stay afloat, inevitably absorbing the last of the lottery winnings and rendering Franz useless.

Thanks to a series of hastily-signed contracts forfeiting over property rights, Eugen is finally able to dump Franz and return to his old lover, who moves into the newly possessed condo even quicker than Eugen did.

Through the relationship between these two very different men in Fox And His Friends, Fassbinder finds a fresh and uncommon story to illustrate his thematic preoccupation with exploitation. Fox And His FriendsThe film belongs to his most fruitful period of production from 1968 until 1976, in which most of his films depicted a multitude of ways unscrupulous people get what they want and need.

Youth and beauty wrangled a trophy lifestyle from a washed-up, lonely fashion designer in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), drunken beatings kept an alcoholic fruit vendor’s wife in check in The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971), and the racist undercurrent in post-war Germany stifled the love and fulfilment of a misused Moroccan immigrant in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974).

In this film, Fassbinder queers the usual paradigm of the gold digging woman exploiting a man’s wealth by giving us a mostly middle class gay man who exploits the gullibility and sudden wealth of a working class gay man. Far more cleverly, he depicts within a single love affair a swelling capitalist Germany’s exploitation of the working class even at the hands a middle class.

Eugen and his struggling entrepreneurial family represent the accelerated, unethical pace at which West Germans wanted to advance their national identity beyond socialism. They know the game, and they know Franz doesn’t. Franz is also not a bright or discerning individual, a man dictated by his heart who does not know the ins and outs of business ventures, but only the ins and outs of the streets.

Like most people focused on the immediate dollar and not a lifetime of wealth, he Fox And His Friendsfails miserably at sustaining a comfortable lifestyle and ends up far worse off than before the winning lottery ticket.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films have a deliberate social function, aiming to critique the shifting landscape of German film production and the politics informing it. His distrust of these burgeoning economics is really what constitutes the moral tale of Fox And His Friends, a lesson showing the pursuit of status and wealth usually corrodes relationships and sincerity.

If money changes everything, it seldom does so for the better in those who’ve never had it. At the very least, Fox And His Friends is an impeccable portrait of anomie, a common side effect felt by those with adjacency to a newfound jackpot.

“If only I could win the lottery” is a common phrase uttered by us all, a wish that almost never takes into account how such a windfall would guarantee the unmasking of everyone in our lives’ ugly side, and perhaps the breakdown of our own self-regulatory values.

Although winning the lottery is nearly every paean’s fantasy, it rarely registers as a daydream come true, but instead a burdensome nightmare.

Joaquin Villalobos

Joaquin Villalobos

Joaquin Villalobos is a burgeoning critic, video editor, screenwriter, and lover of all things film residing in Denver, Colorado. His earliest memory of the cinema is Walt Disney’s Pinocchio at the age of three, an experience sealing his interest in storytelling through imagery. He achieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts at CU Boulder where his work on 16mm and digital video garnered several awards and exhibitions.

His writings on film continue to strengthen his appreciation and understanding of it as both art and commerce. His favorite directors include Pedro Almodóvar, Jean-Pierre Melville, Michael Powell, and Paul Thomas Anderson. More of Joaquin's work can be found at his website, Seen Said and you can follow him on Twitter @SeenSaid.

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