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I'm continually blown away with Fassbinder. And it's all the more
affecting because, like all great artists, he challenges your
conceptions and forces you to have a new experience. We have to fight
our way through his movie, critiquing everything we see. Fox is sure he
will win the lottery. Today will be the day. And, he does. Like the
ending of "Ordet," this is a cliché embraced, but why? Fassbinder is
far too intelligent and original a talent to be conventional without a
reason. (In fact, in a regular movie Fox's lottery win would be a
thrilling set-piece, sitting in front of a TV screen in a living room,
with some dying family member in a hospital bed awaiting money for
treatment. Here, we don't even see the win.) Of course the lottery win
is a set-up for the way money affects a relationship, especially in gay
Basically, Fassbinder is truth. There's a much more honest depiction of factory work here than in, say, von Trier's later films, where he dotes on the "common" man (just as often, woman) as if a simpleton that we should feel sorry for (I doubt they feel sorry for themselves; von Trier just obliges us to feel that way on their behalf). The mistakes made here are by the controllers of the factory -- it's Fox's scheming lover's father who gets the business bankrupt, and it's Fox, after he lends his lover money to get them out of debt, who screws up the printing. But Fox isn't humiliated by his mistake, whereas a blind, helpless Bjork in "Dancer in the Dark" is made to be a pitiable object. (To be fair, both Fassbinder and von Trier have a tendency to wallow in the miserable.)
Fassbinder focuses his film mainly on the class barrier -- Fox's lover makes insulting comments to him regarding proper manners -- but he's also giving us a kind of gay relationship film noir -- we see ex-lovers kissing (in a ceiling mirror!) behind current lovers' backs, and money corruption plays a large part in the film. (Fox's lover is excellent in his role; he never plays a character who's sole purpose for living is to plot in a corner about how he'll be evil today.) And Fassbinder's view of society as something that destroys people is very noirish (Fox isn't completely in the dark; he does understand he's being used as it's happening). But to be sure, Fassbinder is also detailing the upper-class homosexual in a very critical way; but I think he could have done much more exposing the shallowness of gay culture. (He mainly treats Fox's lover and his ex-/secret lover with peeking-through-keyhole disdain, no doubt partly from Fox's perspective, but I find that somewhat childish and not terribly interesting. It's the view of someone who's been screwed over and feels depressed about it, not someone intent on exposing why people are corrupt, and how.) You don't know quite how to feel about this; in a way Fassbinder is very brave -- he casts himself in an incredibly unromantic role. And at the same time it's interesting because, while Fassbinder doesn't seem too pleased with the superficial manner of the gays whose eyes immediately fixate on money and looks, his own film features an abundance of male nudity early on, of young, very attractive boys that Fox himself is quite attracted to.
On a more technical aspect, there are plenty of interesting shots, of reflections, or obscurities, or of the backs of heads or bodies; one particularly stand-out scene is the one where Fox and his lover are vacationing in Morocco and cruise for a man, and when in a taxi with him the camera observes the festival around them while we listen to their discussion. (The man they pick up is Ali from "Fear Eats the Soul," and many of Fassbinder's stable appear in the film. The fact that it's Ali playing a Moroccan -- albeit, one that's ostensibly gay, so it may not in fact be Ali -- gives the film a self-referential bent, though it's never gimmicky; rather, a continuous web of obsessions; there is a comment on racism inputted in this scene, as well.) The ending of the film is a bit too cruel and heavy-handed, though the pessimist in me appreciates it, the part of me that believes society is a pitiless social system out to wreck anything with a pureness of soul. 9/10
Fox and his Friends caused some controversy when it was first made - it
thought that this story of a gay sideshow worker who wins the lottery,
to be exploited to the hilt by his upper-class lover, was potentially
homophobic. Fassbinder himself commented that the story could have been
about a heterosexual relationship, but it wouldn't have been as clear.
Fassbinder himself plays Fox - the burly ugly duckling of German cinema miraculously slimmed down, looking almost handsome. Fox's street skills and good humour are undercut by his naivety, as his repellently snobbish boyfriend systematically scams him out of the thousands of marks he's won on the lottery. The story proceeds with ruthless inevitability, as Fox becomes more and more demoralised. Yet the film contains some of Fassbinder's sharpest comedy, particularly in a brilliantly embarrassing dinner party scene. RWF is excellent in the title role; amazing to think that the guy who wrote and directed the film (among so many others) could play a good-natured dimwit with such conviction.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder has long been honored as the 'bad boy' in
European cinema, a writer/director/actor who repeatedly has taken
chances and because of his brutal honesty has succeeded in making a
stream of important films. FOX AND HIS FRIENDS dates back to 1975 and
remains one of Fassbinder's most successful films. As with all of his
films, Fassbinder deals with the homosexual subculture in Germany but
his main message goes far beyond the characters he creates: the
examination of how people manipulate people for personal gain and the
destruction that produces is a recurring problem and one that this film
'Fox' - a nickname of Franz Bieberkopf - (acted with consummate skill by Fassbinder himself) is a lower class gay carny kid whose lover is arrested, leaving the carnival to collapse and leaving Fox without support. Enter handsome Max (Karlheinz Böhm), a wealthy antiques dealer, who picks up Fox, helps him buy the requisite 'lottery ticket' on which Fox bases his hopes for financial survival (!) via manipulative means, and takes him home, introducing Fox to his gay friends who regard Fox as scum but show obvious physical attraction to his rawness. Surprisingly Fox wins the lottery and suddenly has 500,000 DMs and with his new money, Max's friends abruptly see a target for obtaining that money. One of the friends named Eugen (Peter Chatel) takes Fox in as a lover and talks him into investing in Eugen's family business of bookbinding. Eugen's father Wolf (Adrian Hoven) and mother (Ulla Jacobsson) tolerate their son's life with a low class wretch, ridiculing his manners and lack of culture and education, but willingly take his money to salvage their business.
With a lover and a business and a role model to make him suave, Fox dons fancy clothes, banters with his old friends in a tawdry club, and makes the pretenses that at last he is secure and happy. But in time Fox is blamed for problems at the business and when his funds have been depleted on expensive vacations and apartments by the smarmy self-centered Eugen, Fox realizes that now without money he has no 'fancy friends', no lover, no security and his life becomes unbearable: the ending to the film is a tragedy beyond description.
Some would say the film is mannered in ways that depict stereotypes of the gay world (effeminate men, transvestites, opportunists, hustlers, etc), but Fassbinder is completely honest in his attempt to recreate a subculture of a specific time in Germany. And the characters are well written and well acted allowing us to look at Fassbinder's greater picture of depravity between social class antipathies. In many ways this is a difficult film to watch, but Fassbinder wisely places the main character whom he enacts in a place where his foibles and lack of higher class knowledge can be at once very humorous as well as pitiable. FOX AND HIS FRIENDS has some minor flaws but it has already become a classic in gay cinema repertoire. In German with English subtitles. Grady Harp
Fassbinder is an acquired taste in every sense of the word. It took me
awhile to be able to fully digest and appreciate his films, and even then
can be difficult.
Fox and His Friends is one of his "accessible" movies, but Fassbinder at his most accessible would probably highly alienate most movie goers.
I've seen this movie 3 times. The first time I thought "that was a good Fassbinder". The second time, I thought the same. The third time, I realized it was brilliant. It might be because I recently bought the amazing dvd, which has an excellent transfer. Fassbinder made his films quickly, very quickly, so a faded old videotape sometimes seems to reflect that. However, when seeing the crisp DVD I realized just how great the camera work was and how well-planned out the movie was.
This would make a good starting point for entering the world of Fassbinder I would think, it has it all: well-framed shots, black humor, and an extremely depressing ending. Depending on how much you can relate to this sort of thing, I would recommend checking it out.
p.s. The last scene was later homaged in My Own Private Idaho (another great movie) and Fassbinder gives a really good performance in the lead.
"Faustrecht der Freiheit" occupies a valued place in my video collection. I find myself returning to it again and again, thoroughly enjoying Fassbinder's talent, which run throughout the film. Perceptive, witty and challenging, this drama provides astute observations on societal motivations, political aspirations and, above all, human nature.
A powerful and harrowing melodrama and one of Fassbinder's most accessible movies,this is a must-see for all those interested in intelligent filmmaking.The tragic story of Fox is masterfully and poignantly handled by Fassbinder, while never slipping into sloppy sentimentality.At the same time the film explores sexual and political issues that are still very much relevant.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the opening strains of lilting carnival music, set against a
colorful fairground swarming with people, there's no doubt about
Fassbinder's goal in this film: To show the insanity and the depravity
of the world in all its hectic disgrace. This extended metaphor
smoothly gives way to the story, as Klaus, Fox's manager and boyfriend,
is arrested, we meet Fox's drunken sister, Fox meets Max, Fox wins the
lottery and Fox makes his notorious friends. All these events happen in
rapid succession, but when the plot slows down a little Fox has a new
lover: Eugen, a slick, highbrow conman. Fox doesn't realize it at the
time, but when he utters the words "There's no one that can't be had"
Eugen agrees completely, albeit in silence. Eugen proceeds to take Fox
on a ride, milking him for money to save his father's failing company,
a posh apartment and the furniture for it, fancy clothes, a vacation to
Morocco and a car. Fox loses everything and kills himself, but that's
to be expected in a Fassbinder film.
The irony in the U.S. title, Fox and His Friends is two-fold. His old friends, the ones who hang out in the bar he frequents, the ones who are down to earth and genuine, are the same ones he no longer has any use for. His new friends, the ones who are well cultured, the ones who make fun of him behind his back and criticize him to his face, the ones who fleece him for every penny he has, are the ones he can't get himself away from. The lives of Fox's friends from both sides get tangled together as they all watch Fox sink lower and lower and do nothing to help him. Fox and His Friends is a good enough title for this film, but the original title Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fist Fight of Freedom in English) is much more telling. Fox wants to be happy, and happiness is freedom, but he is far too vulnerable and trusting to attain either in the world he's living in. A world where no one is trustworthy and, worse than that, everyone is amoral and selfish. The characters in this movie are all involved a metaphorical fist fight where only the strong survive, where only those who are willing to connive, cheat, trick and steal are going to come out on top.
Just like in life, no one in this film is entirely sympathetic, once you get to know them. Fox is the most likable character, but even he has questionable morals. This aspect of the film is highlighted in Fox and Eugen's first conversation where Fox declares that there are three types of people in the world: Those who are clean, those who wash and those who stink no matter how much they wash themselves. He goes on to say that the latter is okay because some people like a little stink. This declaration of humanity sums up what Fassbinder is trying to say in this film and many more. The statement is matched by the visual fragmentation of the characters, who, rarely shown in the whole, are instead fragmented by stray objects, windowpanes or mirrors. The scenes of the fair, the boutiques, the bars and Morocco are all lies as Fassbinder lays these colorful settings under truth after truth about the drab and mundane world in which we live. In the end, Max and Karl, representing the best of each of Fox's groups of friends, find Fox dead from doctor prescribed sleeping pills in a subway station and decide to leave him there because they don't want to get involved.
At first it seems that Fassbinder has nothing good to say about human nature. That people are bad and Fox, the world weary victim, is an exception to the rule. But if Fox is an exception, couldn't there be other exceptions too? Surely Fox isn't one of a kind. After all, he's not a very exceptional person. Ultimately the message here is bittersweet, that one can be happy, but they have to fight for it with their life. Fox takes it one step further and sacrifices his life for happiness. Or rather, because of his lack of it in life.
The main point of Fox and his Friends seems to be that money corrupts
the chances of meaningful human interaction; and the movie has a lot
more going for it, there's a deep aesthetic richness, quality of
textual reference, and it has the pulse of relationships.
Franz aka Fox is a circus entertainer who wins the lottery and is then fleeced by those whose love he aspires to.
I found myself admiring Fassbinder and Ballhaus' homages to Sternberg, taking the slatted light of Mogador (Morocco - 1930) and pouring colour in, so that the Moroccan street looks like late Bridget Riley. Following on from Welt am draht two years earlier another of Dietrich's iconic moments under Sternberg's gaze is referenced (Dishonored in Welt am draht, Shanghai Express here), pallid mockeries full of weltschmerz (weltschmerz heaped on weltschmerz), a sense that life might be better.
It's quite easy to get carried away with the design, to see the movie as a parade of yellow dresses and peach-coloured flowers. There's a relentless gay aesthetic, for example Eugen, the dandy entrepreneur who grifts fox, has a poster for The Prince of Homburg in his flat, the ambisexual play by high-strung Heinrich von Kleist, whose search for the ideal, seems to govern Eugen's private life. Eugen is an unpleasant man, there's a brilliant shot of him looking through a spyhole, keeping his distance from his waiting lover, coolly observing.
Franz has panic attacks in the movie, a good touch I thought, that's what unrequited love does to you. Aesthetically the best of Fassbinder's movies that I've seen. Gods of the Plague touches it out in terms of successful content.
The ironically titled Fox and His Friends, Fassbinder's rather excellent study of a none-too-bright circus worker who wins a small fortune in the lottery, is a touching film that features a great performance from Fassbinder himself in the title role. A reflection on the class system and homosexual relationships of 1970's Germany, Fox and His Friends is unsentimental and guileless most of the time. Fox (Fassbinder) is one of the main attractions of a circus like festival, with his lover being arrested for tax fraud. Fox somehow knows he'll win the lottery, so when he picks up a wealthy man at the local 'pick-up toilets', Fox makes sure he reaches the store in time to lodge his ticket. Cut to Fox celebrating his 500 000 marks win, he's drinking in his usual tavern with the effete bar staff and clientele. Fox then somehow becomes involved with a somewhat arrogant and pretentious man, already in a relationship, who takes the naïve Fox for a ride, spending his money in selfish and extravagant ways. Fassbinder's melodrama is droll and poignant, with a tragically ironic ending. Oh, and you have to give extra marks to a director who inserts lengthy nude scenes of themselves in their films.
In an interview with RW Fassbinder, he mentioned that it was important
to him that this be the first movie featuring homosexuals where that
wasn't the problem, or rather that wasn't some kind of big focus-
they're gay, big deal, get over it, lets go on with the rest of the
story. And his intentions were realized since it's not about
homosexuals, per-say, but about class. In the film Fox (Fassbinder
himself in part of the title role) is a carnival worker- Fox and the
Severed Head the act is, and in a clever turn Fassbinder never shows us
his own character's trick, perhaps as an allusion to disappointment in
the film for Fox- and loses his job, only to miraculously win the
lottery and meet a man (Peter Chatel) who is a little more well-spoken
and well-raised, from a richer background than Fox's working-class
roots. But Fox falls in love, and soon they get an apartment, as well
as Fox becoming a business partner for his new lover's father's
There is some melodrama, to be sure, but it's only somewhat about romance between two men, or about men who want to pick up other men for sex (there are a couple of very interesting scenes of this, such as when Fox and Eugen are on vacation and bicker with one another as to what to do with a Moroccan; Salem from Fear Eats the Soul in a great bit part). But it's more about money, about status and the crushing sense of self-worth that comes in a society based on a value system - even in the "lower" class, like the guys at the bar and the bar owner, who have their own sense of worth in their community, one that is not totally at ease with Fox after a while. Often Fassbinder has dealt with the element of the outsider in society, and here one can find no better example: Fox is awkward, doesn't always say the smart things, is not "book" smart to get by with intellectuals nor does he have the butch capacity of those like the traveling-through American soldiers.
And yet at the same time Fox is, as well as the way Fassbinder brilliantly plays him, a good person at heart, not meaning to really hurt anyone, but just f***ing up a lot of the time, like when he puts through 40,000 pamphlets the wrong way through a copy machine at his work. Indeed I can't think of anyone else in Fassbinder's circle of actors who could've done it better: he's someone we sympathize with, even when he messes up royally or does the wrong thing at a family dinner or when his sister, a classic blue-collar woman, gets drunk and embarrasses those around her. He is, at least, more human than the out-for-his-own Eugen (and, likewise, Chatel portrays this coldness very effectively, like when we see his eyes darting around and lying right behind Fox). It takes a little time in the middle for things to get really interesting with the plot, in seeing Fox rising little by little to his quasi-ascension to a plastic happiness, as it were. But once Fassbinder gets there to the meaty parts of the drama, it's hard to resist its pleasures.
And, also, there's some funny moments too, and as Fassbinder is such a likable guy on screen (ironic considering his reputation) there ends up being a few sardonic moments of humor, little jabs here and there about sex or that very obvious scene where Eugen is caught with having Fox in his apartment with another man coming by in the morning... and the twist, late in the film, when this situation becomes reversed. Fox and His Friends is not a masterpiece, but it is essential viewing in the Fassbinder cannon, for the way he goes about telling this story, how he avoids making it *about* gay people (just as he avoided making it simply about race in Fear Eats the Soul), and he himself proves himself a very good actor here in his own right.
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