Kyle’s Criterion Corner: Fox and His Friends (1975)

by | Jan 30, 2017 | FILM & TV

With friends like this, who really needs enemies?

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1975 stunningly devastating Fox and His Friends is among the German auteurs strongest social and political film mixing a tragic tale that is provocatively progressive, darkly funny, and forthright.

Fassbinder himself chose to portray Franz (Fox) the openly gay circus worker who is at the very bottom of the social ladder and spends his time cruising bathrooms and hitching rides. He’s also a very kind individual and entirely naïve who exists on the outside of society. Fassbinder himself felt that the outsiders will always be shunned and exploited, a distillation all the more correct.

The film begins with Fox’s circus boyfriend, Klaus, being arrested for tax fraud, forcing Fox (who plays Fox, The Talking Head) to turn tricks to buy his daily lottery tickets. After making his way to a new group of friends, he captures the attention of Eugen (Peter Chatel) who quickly drops his current boo for the dopey but newly minted Fox. Fox despite having a decent spirit and quite likable is considered to be “stupid and primitive” by Eugen’s social circle who treat him as a specimen or an experiment more than a man. Eugen offers Fox his bourgeois world by getting him a pricey new apartment, buying new posh clothes, and even taking fancy trips to exotic locations like Marrakech. Their vacation escape includes bickering and picking up men to take back to their hotel room that is as disastrous as funny and offers a good riposte to those who think a gay love life is simpler. Class still can’t overcome some hurdles.

Meanwhile Eugen’s family business is currently crumbling and Fox offers his support along with making him a partner in the business until his investment is repaid. It’s follows an excruciating scene of Fox signing over his name thinking he’s making a wise, but charitable one at that. Fassbinder brilliantly shows how in context, a civil bureaucratic procedure can be, well violent and repulsive.

Eugen’s parents are mortified when he drops bread into his soup and prefers modern composers to Mozart. What is quite surprising is that Eugen’s parents are completely fine with their son’s homosexuality (saying they even prefer Fox to his former lover) and being in a relationship with another man. Perhaps it would be entirely lower-class to be objecting to this, but his family endures Fox’s boorishness knowing this man saved their company. However Fox is simply still not cultured or refined as Eugen would want him to be and even scoffs at the idea of taking him to an opera. This shame permeates throughout the relationship and drives Fox into a drunken stupor of depression and self-loathing. Not realizing his fate is bounded by his relationship with Eugen, he calls the relationship off and things turn from bad to worse.

At only 29, Fassbinder himself was fueled by a decade of bad drugs and worse romances. He chose Fox and His Friends to be his first film to deal exclusively with the dynamics of gay men and their social hierarchy. Fassbinder is no less kind to his own and even dedicated the film to his boyfriend (Armen Meier) at the time and would later go on to star in his next string of films until his suicide in 1978. One could attest that this dynamic and declaration to his lover informed said film and it wouldn’t be a hard assessment to consider as both were from dissimilar but alienated backgrounds. During this time Fassbinder was also churning out films at rapid succession and Fox and His Friends was another articulate example of his ruthless observation of human nature.

Fox and His Friends arrives to the Criterion Collection for the first time with a new 4K digital restoration, undertaken by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. The supplemental material includes an actor interview with Henry Baer and interview with filmmaker Ira Sachs. Also included is an excerpt from a 1975 interview with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and an excerpt from a 1981 interview with composer Peer Raben. A new English subtitle translation has been updated along with an essay from film critic Michael Koresky. Fox and His Friends stands as a masterwork for Fassbinder and continues to be provocative. For anybody interested in Fassbinder or want more of his work, this is a fine release that looks gorgeous. It’s a spectacular transfer and the film looks fresh for even today. It’s wholly worthwhile, memorable, and a spectacular portrait of queer culture of the 70s.

Fox and His Friends
Germany (1975)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Spine #851
Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Filmstruck

Words by Kyle Shearin

Kyle Shearin

Kyle Shearin

Powered by coffee, Kyle Shearin is a regular contributor for RVAmag for better part of the decade. Mr. Shearin studied journalism/film at VCU while eventually graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in English Lit. Started KCC (Kyle's Criterion Corner) in 2015. Probably likes a lot of the same stuff you do.

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