“Fox and His Friends”

Brecht’s and Sirk’s influence on Fassbinder are well known, but the downward pull of fate on his characters smacks of Hardy or the Melville of Pierre: or, the Ambiguities. All of his movies that I’ve seen start out slowly—sometimes punishingly so—only to quicken as his characters near their preordained cliffs, and if the abuse of emotional power was one of his major themes, one of his favorite ways of treating it was to set before us people—Herr R., Martha, Fox—whose march toward self-destruction is so sure-footed that we feel almost sadistically vindicated when it arrives. (Though at least one film marks an important exception. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul finishes on a precarious sweet-and-sour note, in which Emmi and Ali do manage to stay together, but knowing that the vast divides between them will continue to wreak havoc with their happiness. It’s a conclusion I love, open-ended yet untainted by any of the false “ambiguity” which so many directors screw onto their stories in a helpless stab at honesty.)

Fox and His Friends is touching partly because Fassbinder, playing the main character, makes his unpolished acting style work as a manifestation of Fox’s naïveté. Capable of passing for 19, his bald line-readings work in concert with Fox’s unconfident posture and beloved denim jacket (his name spelled out in rhinestones on the back) to create the timorous, gullible circus hand who himself might be a Melvillian fancy. What must’ve been a moment of madcap happiness in Fox’s life—the moment he wins the lottery—is entirely glossed over in favor of the degradation he submits/is submitted to afterwards. As deliberate and distanced as the early part of the movie is, Fassbinder bears down on Fox’s “business partners” (his boyfriend and the man’s desperate-for-money parents) as one by one they sign the contract screwing him out of his fortune, with each elegant tilt of the camera revealing carefully gauged shadows of regret in their eyes. If Fox’s friends are any nicer than the friends of Eddie Coyle, it’s only because they stop short of actually putting one in his head.

One Response to ““Fox and His Friends””

  1. Jason L. Brown Says:

    Funny – it’s been more than a few years but “Fox and His Friends” and “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” are two of the ten or so Fassbinders I’ve seen that I recollect most vividly. Thanks for the reminder – and that’s an apt nod, I think, to both Hardy and Melville.

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