Fassbinder's "Fox And His Friends," a timely homoerotic, anti-capitalist tragicomedy

City Paper

A timely tragedy about greed and the suckers capitalism makes out of everybody other than the super rich, "Fox and His Friends" stars director Rainer Werner Fassbinder as Franz (or Fox) Bieberkopf, an unemployed sideshow performer whose carnival barker boyfriend Klaus (Harry Baer) gets busted for tax fraud. Down and out but still dumbly sure of his luck, Fox scrapes together enough to buy a lottery ticket and wins 500,000 marks. After catching a ride with some tearoom trade named Max (Karlheinz Böhm), Fox is hoisted into the world of the bourgeois and his heart and eventually his money get entangled with Eugen (Peter Chatel), a mustachioed man with a boner for Baroque furniture, whose family's failing printing business could really use a bailout.

With a crisp half a mil and the naïve assumption that the wealthy can ever have enough, working class Fox and his new money are soon intertwined with Eugen's family business. With a couple of badass jackets (lightwash denim with "FOX" in studs on the back and Fassbinder's signature black leather look) and some lowbrow bar tricks, Fox plays the part of the fool, underlining the absurdity of Eugen's fancy fam and West German liberal elites, for whom improper use of a dessert fork is much more of a faux-pas than ripping off your lovers and friends.

One telling scene: A bank clerk cashes-out a large sum of money for Fox to loan to Eugen's family and Fox counts aloud along with the bank teller while Eugen, silent and mortified, doesn't even face the teller. Fox proudly receives and hands off his fat wad of cash, and they leave. The camera stays on the teller, who ineffectually says to no one, "Cash, cash, cash. If you repeat a word often enough, it loses its meaning." Money and love are synonymous here, only Fox doesn't know it, and when Eugen's family uses up his money, Fox is quickly dumped, has to sell his Italian sports car, and is left only with his Leonard Cohen records, his crusty jean jacket, and enough valium to kill himself. Summarizing "Fox And His Friends" nihilism, Parkway director of programming and film Twitter enfant terrible Eric Hatch tweeted, along with a still from the movie where Fassbinder's charmingly ugly mug pulls a pouty smirk: "Find a man who looks at you like Fassbinder looks at our inability to love w/o fear & dominance until we embrace the inevitability of death."

One would be careful to draw too many life lessons from someone like Fassbinder. "Fox and His Friends" is Fassbinder's 23rd feature—he was 30 when he made it—and he died of a cocaine and barbiturates overdose at age 37 editing his 40th film, "Querelle," a surreal and full-of-dicks Jean Genet adaptation. And besides, the autobiographical parallels to Fassbinder's life suggest he's more of an Eugen than a Fox anyways, but such is the introspective, self-loathing work of this conflicted, maybe clairvoyant madman auteur. But if there's something to take away from this film it's this: Wear cool jackets and fuck the rich.

"Fox And His Friends," directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, screens at the Parkway Theatre on May 14 at 7 p.m. and May 17 at 7 p.m.

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