Rainer Werner Fassbinder is not the person to turn to for “light fare” or reassuring statements about the nature of humanity. He is there, in short, to remind us all of mankind’s predilection for betrayal and disappointment. His twenty-first feature film, Fox and His Friends, released in 1975, finds Fassbinder in a particularly cynical mood with regard to humanity.
In the lead role of Franz Bieberkopf (a name taken from the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz that Fassbinder would later adapt for a TV miniseries), Fassbinder pours his entire soul into a character whose love is always ill-used by those who choose to capitalize on it. Starting out as a carnival worker under the employ of his boyfriend, Klaus (Karl Scheydt), Fox knows only how to be a, for all intents and purposes, subservient to someone else’s whims and desires. Thus, when Klaus is arrested while onstage for tax evasion (oh zee Germans and their sticklerdom), Fox is left with nothing to do but act on his instinct to play the lottery, which he has done every week consistently for years. But this week, he insists, is the one for winning. Unfortunately, “Whenever you need something, you’re screwed,” as he puts it, and, accordingly, can’t find anyone to lend him the ten marks he needs to buy the ticket. When he encounters an older gay gentleman named Max (Karlheinz Böhm) at the public restroom he’s decided to utilize as his prostitution hub, he agrees to get in his car with him. Alas, Max won’t pony up the ten marks up front for services rendered, so Fox persuades him to stop in front of a flower shop before their tryst so that he can run a scam that will get him the money he needs. Afterward, and just in the nick of time, Max and Fox make it to the convenience store to put in his lotto ticket.
A couple months later, Fox is still very much the same in dress and demeanor at Max’s lavish home–the only difference being he is now half a million richer thanks to his lotto intuition. This fact doesn’t seem to impress fellow partygoers and lovers for the moment Eugen (Peter Chatel) and Philip (Harry Baer), who are disgusted with Max’s “bathroom tastes.” And yet, as Eugen leaves the party, he offers to give Fox a ride. Touched by his seeming kindness, Fox accompanies Eugen to his apartment, where the latter is noticeably appalled by his crassness. Still, he sleeps with Fox, in a scene that most overtly proves Fassbinder’s comment on the movie, “It is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem. In films, plays or novels, if homosexuals appear, the homosexuality was the problem, or it was a comic turn. But here homosexuality is shown as completely normal, and the problem is something quite different, it’s a love story, where one person exploits the love of the other person, and that’s the story I always tell.”
And, undeniably, this is the theme that shines through in all of its melancholic glory as Fox grows irrevocably attached to Eugen, a bourgeois type clearly using Fox undercuttingly for his money and its ability to salvage his father Wolf’s (Adrian Hoven) struggling printing company. Once Eugen has won the heart of Fox completely, he craftily gets Max to mention Wolf’s problem so that Fox will readily offer up the 100,000 marks needed to keep the company afloat. From there, the relationship escalates as Eugen mentions that they might as well buy an apartment together since the neighbors will always whisper about them and make problems so long as they’re renting.
Amenable to getting even more intimate, Fox permits Eugen to coerce him into this lavish purchase, decorated in the most expensive of furniture and decor from Max’s antique shop. He then insists on “dressing” Fox in the kind of attire that suits his station, taking him to Philip’s clothing store so that, apparently, all the friends in his social circle can get a piece of the pie that is Fox’s lottery winnings. Fox, however, ends up only buying new garments for Eugen, preferring to remain comfortable in his own “working class” attire–a wardrobe marked most significantly by a jean jacket with the studded word “FOX” on the back.
The more Fox tries to accommodate Eugen, the more impetuous and ungrateful he becomes. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of all inequitable relationships, wherein Fox only wants to get closer the more Eugen pulls away, staggering home drunk and saying things like, “Without you, I’m nothing.” Eugen, unmoved, puts in his ear plugs as Fox begins to snore.
Insisting that all their rapport needs for a bit of revitalization is a getaway, Fox agrees to a vacation in Marrakesh, where the two try to bring back an Arab named Salem (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul‘s El Hedi ben Salem) to their hotel to spice things up. When this plan fails due to the hotel’s “No Arab” policy, the strain between Fox and Eugen intensifies. Soon after, Eugen’s total lack of feeling makes itself known to Fox, as he’s summarily fucked out of all the money he lent to the printing company–not to mention the loan he gave to his ex, Klaus.
By the end, Fox resigns himself to being a lower class nobody, returning to his old favorite haunt, a den of transsexuals, gays and misfits. There, he encounters two American soldiers he had run into previously, asking if they want to spend time with him. The soldiers, in turn, assume Fox wants to pay them for sexual services, demanding, “How much do you pay?” Fox, wounded and somewhat stunned by the question, screams, “I pay! I always pay!” This revelation, that Fox is only wanted or needed for the money he can give to people, sends him over an edge he can’t come back from–the sudden divination into a life marked solely by begging people for affection and company based on the finances he can offer a waking nightmare he wants nothing more than to escape from.