FOX AND HIS FRIENDS
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Stars: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Adrian Hoven
This is an uncelebrated and relatively ancient wonder written, directed and performed by everyone’s favorite cokehead, Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Fassbinder plays Franz Biberkopf, a chunky dimwit who works in a corrupt travelling circus playing sideshow attraction Fox the Talking Head, an act we unfortunately never get to see. Fox’s blue-collar sexuality wins him easy sex with revolting bourgeois poofs who are after a bit of rough, but when Fox wins five hundred thousand marks in the lottery, he suddenly finds that his gang of aspirational fuck buddies want to see a whole lot more of him.
Blind to their motives, poor Fox thinks he’s found the life of his dreams, and goes along with his new friends’ every deception, lending massive sums of money left right and centre to prop up their failing businesses, or purchase truckloads of hilariously ugly seventies German clothes and furnishings. Every last Mark of Fox’s lucky win is siphoned off by his most regular lover Eugen (Peter Chatel), who’s pulled every legal string in the book and gets to keep the lot when Fox’s well runs dry. Tense and confused, Fox visits the doctor and gets given a prescription for Valium 5mg, which comes in handy later when Fox hits rock bottom.
So Fox And His Friends is ostensibly the familiar Fassbinder milieu. The middle class are miserable and chained to a life of mundane labour, but they dread losing the garish trappings that distinguish them from the lower class, who for their part, are happier and work less. When erotic compulsions send people across the class barriers, intractable problems are created on both sides.
It’s very like Ali: Fear Eats The Soul which Fassbinder made the year before, where a transgression of racial lines led to the permanent social displacement of lonely Emmi, who lost her way following her heart. (El Hedi ben Salem, who played Ali, plays a dignified Moroccan in Fox And His Friends, while Brigitte Mira, Emmi, pops up here too as a dark haired shopkeeper.)
Multitasking superbly, Fassbinder imbues Fox with a mental simplicity but a wise heart. Fox is not at all fluent in social mores, but he does know the importance of laughter, and enjoys drinking, fucking and gambling more than almost anything else. Once he discovers that he’s been tricked by his own fate, he goes mad and kills himself, like a gay (proletarian) Oedipus Rex. Despite Fassbinder’s plain looks and pasty complexion, he makes Fox almost sexy, and the character’s vulnerability is affecting and endearing.
Fassbinder fills up his Sirk-ian melodrama with gay guys, but doesn’t underline the transposition. The first time we see Fox, in the film’s opening scene, he plants a moist tongue kiss on his lover, who’s being carted off by the police. Eugen’s parents don’t skip a beat over their son’s male partner, and a pair of US Army men are similarly blase - when a drunk Fox propositions them, they snap from asking him about whores and girls to wondering if he’s a good fuck in the bat of an eye. Odd that a quarter of a century later Californian queer film makers and their fans were going beserk about their “revolutionary” New Queer Cinema, but the less said about that embarrassing affair, the better.
Australian aerialist Arian Levanael performs around the world and is primarily based in London. In 2009, he posed for this set of shots in London by Dylan Rosser.
Back then, I stole some time out of Ari’s mystic schedule to shoot him a few questions.
Mark Adnum: Ari, whenever I see an image of you, I think of the 9 of Pentacles. What’s your take on this?