Fassbinder himself plays Franz Biberkopf, a poor gay man who performs in a traveling circus as Fox the Talking Head. One day he lucks into winning half a million in a lottery. This attracts the attention of a group of elegant homosexuals, including Eugen (Peter Chatel), who becomes Fox’s lover.
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The character, sat conquered in a car seat, listening to Leonard Cohen sing Bird on the Wire, might be the defining moment of Fassbinder's bleakest film (a barely heard cry of anguish over the clamour and contempt of the world as Fassbinder saw it), but it is the sense of absolute disdain levelled at the audience for collaborating, as spectators, passive in his downfall, that makes the film so difficult to forget.
A biographer cited on Wikipedia says this is about love treated as commodity - so oversimple it's irrelevant. This is about how power/privilege fucks over whoever it can (i.e. anyone vulnerable) to maintain/bolster itself, and about the compromises we (all) make along the way to make sense of the distortions to our values/selves demanded by life under naked capitalism. A fable no less violent than Salo, really. 3.75
It seems simple,—and isn't the social ladder at the center of half of the coming of age plots,—but it's a poignant, complex study of class in 1970s Western Germany. I kind of hoped for a happy end, that Fox would take up with the circus impressario again, but I'm actually glad there was no straightwashing. Cuts deeper this way.
Oft' noted that from THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS on, Fassbinder's body of work is essentially one of-a-piece extrapolation. It has thus always been hard for me to pick an absolute favourite. Revisiting it (by virtue of the dazzling new Criterion 4k dealeo), I am ready to put FOX AND HIS FRIENDS at the front of the line. Fassbinder's (conceptually rich) performance earns it special accreditation. And that ending!
You definitely get more a sense of who Fassbinder is in this one. He is the alpha male who quickly assesses the situation and gets control. This one's about class distinctions. His lover gains a sense of control by making fun of his lack of sophistication.