Social and economic roles are upended in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1975 film. Info
Cinematheque kicks off its series on the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder with the appropriately bleak and sexy 1975 film Fox And His Friends. In this mid-career melodrama, Fassbinder plays a carnival-sideshow attraction who desperately wants to win the lottery after losing this job, and he soon succeeds. His working-class charm and newfound coin land him in the lap of Eugen, the son of an industrial printer, and the two begin a relationship that juxtaposes the class identities of the two men. The catch is that Eugen and Fox's economic situations are reversed, with the former worker paying for all kinds of consumption while the trust-fund baby's family business is suddenly out of cash. Eugen slowly attempts to warp Fox's identity to suit his new community, and siphons the money away from him with a series of emotional appeals that culminate in a huge loan to keep the printing business afloat. For many Fassbinder films, explaining plot details can make things sound unbearably depressing. But this story reaches such ironic heights that you are forced to laugh at these silly, dramatic people, who seem to understand themselves to be living in a soap-opera even as the world around them is faded and dull.
Fassbinder himself was often derided in the West German press for his open bisexuality, yet there is little antagonism against bisexuality shown in the film. While Fox And His Friends does fall victim to one trope of early queer cinema, wherein a gay character must die, homosexuality is not actually a central problem in the story. Fox And His Friends sharply depicts one oppressed group of people indulging in social control at the expense of another, as upper-class gay men are sheltered from repercussions when they prey on poorer lovers. Fassbinder may have picked this world of bourgeois men (there are few prominent female characters) to partially sideline a gendered power imbalance and shine a light on the intricate privileges of wealth. —Reid Kurkerewicz