Nov 24, 2012

Fox and His Friends

 Undoubtedly one of master Neuer Deutscher Film auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most accessible and least thematically intricate films, Fox and His Friends (1975) aka Faustrecht der Freiheit – which also stars the usually fleshly filmmaker in the lead title and rather robust role – also happens to be one of his most immaculate and personal works. Created during the middle period of his filmmaking career, which is also often regarded as his most ‘inner’ time as a film director, Fox and His Friends was the first film in which Fassbinder portrayed an overtly homosexual love story (despite the fact that his innate gayness was a driving influence behind his artful and audaciously naked melodramas), but also a cinematic work that would cause criticism and outrage due to its less than flattering portrayal of gay subcultures, especially of the hyper-anal-retentive bourgeois bugger sort. Created in dedication ‘for Armin and all the others,’Armin being Armin Meier – Fassbinder’s uneducated orphan (he was a Lebensborn baby sired by the Nazi SS) lover – Fox and His Friends is an intelligent yet highly intimate indictment of opulent homos and how one gay proletarian is eaten up and spit out by a sassy sect of positively pompous, prissy, and pretentious pansies of the particularly posturing sort. Ironically, Fassbinder’s Aryan Übermensch boy toy Armin Meier (who later himself was featured in subsequent Fass-bande films like Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, Fear of Fear, Satan’s Brew, etc.) – who was constantly belittled and bemeaned by the German filmmaker due to his lack of refinement – would meet a grizzly end in 1978 that was startlingly similar to that of the protagonist (ironically played by Fassbinder himself) of Fox and His Friends. Not surprisingly, Fassbinder would direct another film in tribute to Meier, In a Year of Thirteen Moons (1978) aka In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden, which like Fox and His Friends, is also quite boldly bleak and intensely personal, but aside from the fact that the protagonist is an orphan, has a proclivity towards peckers and commits suicide, the transvestite/nullo character Erwin/Elvira's (played by Volker Spengler) life bears little resemblance to that of the ill-starred man it was dedicated to. The fact that Fox and His Friends was created a couple of years before Meier’s death with a strikingly slenderized Fassbinder playing the role of the lead Franz Bieberkopf aka "Fox, the Talking Head" makes the film all the more eerie, especially considering that the filmmaker figuratively walks in the shabby shoes of an exploited and degraded character he knew all too well yet subsequently gave the real mensch Meier hell, thereupon leading to his cinematically prophesized demise. Knowing Fassbinder’s quasi-incestuous relationship with his group of actors, I do not think it would be a stretch to speculate that Fassbinder forecasted and even helped provoke Meier’s premature demise, as well as his own in 1982, as it most certainly had to have crossed his mind as so vividly prognosticated in Fox and His Friends; a work about fair-weather fag friends and the bloodsucking emotional and financial brutality they beget.

Fox and His Friends begins with the introduction of charming yet uncultured carny Franz Bieberkopf – best known in the carnival trade as "Fox, the Talking Head" – and his even more captivating boyfriend Klaus (Karl Scheydt), the criminally-inclined carnival owner. Unfortunately for Fox, his beautiful beau is arrested for tax fraud while in the middle of one of his theatrical carny routines, so now jobless and sexless, Fox – a man of very little means and no others trades – decides to buy a lottery ticket in an overtly obsessed manner that is quite similar to that of the child protagonist from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) directed by Mel Stuart. Also, like the fantasy musical penned by Roald Dahl, Fox magically buys the winning ticket, but with money he swindled out of a portly florist named 'Fatty' Schmidt (Peter Kern), thereupon winning 500,000 German marks in the process; much to his delight and child-like amazement, he soon has reasonably rich and refined Francophile, antique fetishist homosexuals swooning over him but the oftentimes crude and careless ragbag-turned-rich carney conman ultimately proves to be no match for the bombastic bourgeois buggerers' cunning and conspiring ways. Initially rejected by la-di-da lace-curtain cocksucker Eugene (Peter Chatel) and his euphuistic entourage of sharply dressed sodomites, largely due to his indelicate humdrum demeanor, Fox is soon accepted when his prospective paramour realizes the seemingly base carny boy has just become independently wealthy. Although the exceedingly egoistical Eugene already has a personal twink of his own named Philip (Harry Baer of Fassbinder’s Jail Bait aka Wildwechsel, The Third Generation aka Die dritte Generation) who is notably more pretty and polished than wild Fox, he cannot help but like the curious carny chap for his newly acquired capital and proletarian penis, although he would never have the gall and genuineness to admit so. Indeed, Fox may be a sub-literate with a decided disdain for high-camp, French restaurants, and first edition copies of Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron's works, but he is not so blind as to be somewhat aware of Eugene’s vainglorious and even villainous intentions. As far as his sexual prowess is concerned, Fox – to the complete and utter offense of posh and prissy Eugene – states quite proudly that, “I am proletarian; they are more potent.” Of course, Eugene – being a born materialist of the money-massaging and maliciously machinating sort – is less concerned with the size of Fox’s cornholer than his cash wad and he is willing to use a variety of certainly corrupt, clandestine, and calculating methods to get it when all his inamorato wants in return is mere love and affection; two things the would-be-rich bitch has an incapacity for giving. Before he knows it, Fox is ‘investing’ in Eugene’s and his father’s business, buying an overpriced apartment and useless antiques, and paying for lavish vacations for the two, yet Eugene remains an unwavering ingrate of the most prim parasitic sort, henceforth resulting in heartbreak and even a heart attack for the lapsed carney, which his fleeting lover barely notices. Naturally, things take a turn for the worst when Fox is prescribed valium.

In the documentary Die Nacht der Regisseure (1995) aka Night of Filmmakers directed by Edgar Reitz and produced for BFI TV, Fassbinder super starlet Hanna Schygulla (The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lili Marleen) states regarding the filmmaker who launched her career prominent German actress of the New German Cinema : “But I’ve got to say he made some very powerful films without me…Now when I see the films from a distance I like some of them very much. For example, Fox, the Talking Head. Back when I saw it I thought, 'Oh well, he did a nice job of fashioning himself in the role of the victim.' I see it all differently today through his death.” And, indeed, it is hard to imagine watching Fox and His Friends today without considering the highly personal context in which it was made, especially in regard to Fassbinder's scandalous and tragic love life. It should also be noted that Fassbinder’s star-crossed Moroccan lover El Hedi ben Salem (Welt am Draht aka World on a Wire, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) – who also committed self-slaughter in a fit of desperation like Armin Meier – also makes a most fitting appearance in Fox and His Friends as an Arab hustler, which the character Eugene treats with the most despicable disdainfulness despite his desire to be buggered by the brown chap.  In Rosa von Praunheim's exceedingly enlightening documentary Fassbinder's Women (2000) aka Fassbinder Was the Only One for Me: The Willing Victims of Rainer Werner F. it is revealed that – not unlike pop-art-con-artist Andy Warhol – Fassbinder had a tendency for building up downtrodden people, especially in regard to his lovers El Hedi ben Salem and Armin Meier, only to throw them away when he got tired of them, thereupon putting these individuals in an even worse situation than they originally started with, ultimately culminating in their tragic suicides.  Of course, unlike Warhol, Fassbinder had enough intelligence, sensitivity, empathy, and integrity to channel these character flaws into his film, especially in regard to Fox and His Friends and In a Year of Thirteen Moons.  Like the protagonists of his films The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971), Fox and His Friends (1975), and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), the German New Wave auteur would inevitably learn that personal success does not always lead to eternal happiness, hence Fassbinder's lonely demise by way of extremely likely subconscious suicide in a manner not all that dissimilar from the protagonist of Fox and His Friends.  That being said, if there is any filmmaker who can be described as 'dying for his art,' it is indubitably Rainer Werner Fassbinder; a man whose decisively debauched and destructive personal life was eclipsed by his only slightly more melodramatic films.

-Ty E

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