‘Fox and His Friends’ or — Exploitation Cinema or Cinema of The Exploited?
There’s a point fairly on into Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ‘Fox and His Friends’ (1975) where you get the niggling suspicion the title might be just the tiniest, little bit ironic. Yet is this irony humourous or horrific? Watch ‘Fox and His Friends’ and find out!
What’s interesting about ‘Fox and His Friends’ is that it begins as though it is going to be an exploration, even celebration, of homosexuality (even Fox’s jackets seem inspired by Kenneth Anger) in 70’s Germany as young man, Fox, loses his job at the carnival only to then become involved in the upper class gay scene when a sophisticated art dealer named Max picks him up for sex. The working class Fox is seen as a sort of fascinating piece of rough by Max and his friends. Fox, meanwhile, remains unswayed by all this wealth and status although he has a very definite plan to make money himself — he’ll win the lottery!
This far-fetched idea shocks everyone, especially the audience after an almost imperceptible time-jump, when Fox actually wins the lottery big time. This win now makes him an eligible partner for the overly refined Eugen, with whom Fox begins a romantic relationship. Eugen attempts to teach Fox the finer aspects of life — the correct cutlery to use, how to dress well, high society etiquette etc — whilst Fox remains Teflon resistant to these changes, just carrying on being himself (with the exception of upgrading his jacket from denim to leather).
So from this initial set-up it’s easy to expect this to be a romance, whether doomed or not, and considering the male nudity on display near the start one with an explicitly homo-erotic tone. ‘Fox and His Friends’ big shock though is in just how it all changes when Fox comes into his money and all the evil machinations that start oozing out of the antique woodwork. This is not a film about homosexuality or love (unless both are seen as nothing more
than commodities or forms of transaction) but of exploitation and the brutality of business and the Capitalist system.
In that aspect ‘Fox and His Friends’ had me thinking of Brian Yuzna’s ‘Society’ (1989) where the rich feed off the poor to the point of consuming them whole. When I realised, around 45 mins in, just what the rich had in mind for Fox my heart sank and my blood ran cold as ice but I was glad of this warning because I was able to steel myself for what was to come. And what comes is pretty fucking bleak, indeed!
Not that ‘Fox and His Friends’ is a depressing watch. Sure, it is a full on drive into nihilism to expose a hideous aspect of society and human nature but Fassbinder keeps everything so taut and tense, so engrossing that even though we know what we are going to witness won’t be good we can’t help but keep watching… and hoping.
The final shot rams the point home in a bruising way, especially with the implication that human nature has always been one of exploitation and that innocence is fundamentally a lie. This film is a tough watch but it has a vice like grip and an intensity that had me holding my breath throughout and finding myself only exhaling when another emotional punch hit me in the stomach.