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Movie Reviews

Fox and his Friends  

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was known for making numerous films within his short life (he wasn`t yet 40 when he died). These films were mostly melodramas inspired by the classic Hollywood melodramas of the past, most noticeably those from Douglas Sirk, but Fassbinder`s films usually had a twist to them, often in the assortment of protagonists involved. Fox and His Friends, from 1975, is most noticeable because the story involves a group of gay males, not exactly common for the time.

Fassbinder himself plays the title role, a lower-class circus performer kicked out of his job when the owner of the circus (and former lover) is thrown in jail for fraud. Fox has always had dreams of being more successful, and that involves winning the lottery, if he can ever manage that. One evening, in a very peculiar scene, he is picked up by a wealthy gay man who drives him around in a frantic search for a store which is still open so Fox can buy a lottery ticket. In the very next scene, in fact, Fox has finally won, 500,000 marks, and is now in the company of the wealthy man`s rich gay friends, who are virtually unanimous in their disgust at this lower-class fool infiltrating their high-class habitat. One man in particular, Eugen, seems to share that same attitude, yet for some odd reason, he and Fox get together, albeit in a very bitchy manner. Soon Fox is more important in Eugen`s life, and even becomes involved in the family business, the printing factory. Fox agrees to "lend" the family business 100,000 marks, and essentially help out in the day-to-day business. Fox also finds himself paying for many other things in the relationship, from a new house, furniture, clothes, and even a trip to a place which Fox has barely heard of.

We understand right away what the dynamic of the relationship will be. Eugen really has no respect for Fox at all, and, even though Eugen is wealthy enough, plans to shred Fox of all his wealth, self-respect and dignity. This is possible because Fox himself is naive and not very bright. The most important scene in this regard is at the lawyer`s office where Eugen, his parents, and Fox oversee the signing of the contract in which Fox will give away 100, 000 marks to the printing company. While I`m not exactly any better at contracts than Fox, the impression is clear that the contract is set up to give as little financial burden as possible to the company. Yet Fox does not understand this, and has too much pride to admit that he does not. So he signs his money away, and that`s only the start of his tragic spiral into the deepest despair.

In 1975, a film dealing with almost exclusively gay characters would have been extremely risky. So what is most unusual about this movie is how the gay factor is merely the detail and not the body of the story. Many films today which deal with gay themes are very in-your-face about the subject, as if there is something special about their lifestyle which the rest of us ignoramuses just can`t ever understand. Yet Fassbinder has no interest in doing such a thing. His story is not about gay people, but about money and social status, which is something we can all understand. And it also deals with these issues of class in a very harsh light. Eugen is portrayed as an arrogant, pompous swine, who thinks that people unlike himself are uncultured, crude and slothful. We`re shocked that Fox would fall for such a personality. But this dynamic can only work because Fox, as a poor person, is infatuated with the lifestyles of the wealthy, and leaves himself vulnerable to disaster due to this fascination.

Comedy and satire exist in this film, as there is a dry level of humour throughout the story. Numerous scenes play up the differences between Eugen and Fox, and, especially, Fox`s attempts to copy the social graces of the wealthy. Yet the overall effect is that of tragedy, as Fox allows himself to be used and abused, and the final sequences contain constant blows to any chance of a happy ending.

Despite the fact this film depicts a completely alien lifestyle to me, this is a movie I can actually recommend, and even above that of the celebrated The Marriage of Maria Braun. Fox is far more plausible, and the melodramatic events (including an unforgettable ending) are very believable. The film does, unfortunately, feel repetitive and flat occasionally, yet these facts are not fatal. The movie still has some interesting points to make about social status, and the dry humour underneath the melodrama helps the movie move along just fine.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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