Image from Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “Fox and His Friends (1976 Review).” Monthly Film Bulletin 43.504 (1976): n. pag. Web.
The ironic title of Fassbinder’s rags-to-riches, New German Cinema masterpiece, Fox and His Friends (1975), forces viewers to question the very fabric of friendship; After all, Franz’s (aka Fox’s) so-called friends only feign affection in order to swindle from him the entirety of his lottery win which, in retrospect, seems the initiation of loss. These frenemies bleed the carnie dry financially and emotionally with their incessant accusations of his inferiority and false promises. Fox offers his trust, flesh, and money; all he desires in return is love. What he gets, however, is a steaming pile of betrayal seasoned with manipulation. Finally, he pays the ultimate price: his life.
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The travel agency scene (an hour & eleven minutes into the film) illustrates the classism and condescension suffered by the film’s tragic hero at the hands of his greedy boyfriend. Noticing his lover’s increased distance, Fox offers to take Eugen on a dream vacation in an effort to revive their dying relationship. At the agency, Eugen constantly belittles Fox, insulting his intelligence and even referring to him as a girl—an affront used throughout by gays to bash each other. Playing upon his perceived cultured status, Eugen decides that he would like to travel to Morocco. Of course, he makes sure to emphasize his superior skills since he alone can speak the French necessary for their voyage and desired ménage à trois.
Never asking Fox for his opinion, Eugen—who gets high off of his own articulation—controls the scene with his egotistical speech. But when it is Fox and not the cocky cultured gentleman who foots the bill, the secretary glares at Eugen in pure disgust. The camera lingers on the woman’s face for a noticeable length of time, amplifying her shock. In so doing, the audience at once identifies with Olga, sharing her disapproval. Cutting to Eugen then back to the travel secretary, the camera silently shows her reprimand him. Eugen’s maintained eye contact seems to say, “Hold your tongue! I’ll do as I please.” Viewers grasp the immorality inherent in Eugen’s abuse of Fox shown in previous scenes depicting lavish purchases and extravagant requests. The camera zooms into Fox while he signs the check. Highlighting the signature itself, the shot draws attention to the significance of his pricey declarations of love. The enormity of his sacrifice is visually amplified. While Fox is consistently treated like blue-collar scum, he—not Eugen or his stodgy family—is the one with money.
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Money alone does not determine class or character; rather it is the viciousness embodied by the self-proclaimed “cultured” that places those who are kind beneath those cunning tricksters who resort to cruelty in their quest for cash. Fox’s genuine character as well as his longing for true human connection mark him an outsider. Riches or rags, Fox can never be accepted by the suit-and-tie club. Even in death, he cannot escape the ruthless nature of pickpockets. In a haunting conclusion, children rob Fox’s corpse. His “friends” walk past him, treating him like garbage, disposable and worthless. In a world of vice and vanity, sincere romantics are doomed to face a rude awakening. Nothing is sacred. Love is merely an exploitable commodity; a currency to be spent. And Fox spent it all.
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Fox and His Friends. Dir. Rainer W. Fassbinder. Perf. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Peter Chatel. New
Yorker Films (USA), 1975. Hulu Plus.