I think I’ve finally put down what it is about Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films that generally rubs me the wrong way. There is an aloof quality to everything that happens, almost a haughtiness, as if the picture is trying its hardest to be refined art and wants to rub it in your face when it succeeds. The previous two films of his I’ve seen have been the exceptions, or at least partially so, but it is on full display here. Fox and His Friends is one of the two Fassbinder films that deals with homosexuality to make it onto the list (the other will be one of the last films I end up doing), but a quick look under the hood and one can see that there’s more to this than just gay people being gay with each other; this is a mean picture, and a focused meanness at that.
Fassbinder himself stars as Franz, better known as Fox, after the carnival sideshow he stars in; Fox, the Talking Head. At the beginning of the film, his overseer at the carnival gets arrested, leaving him without a job, and no hope of any money to buy the weekly lottery ticket he buys every week, of which this week he is sure he will win. Amazingly enough, after stealing the money needed to buy the ticket, he does end up winning, and thus his life in the higher bracket begins; meeting up with high class entrepreneur Eugen, beginning a relationship with him, and generally being in over his head, as the funds from his lottery win grow smaller and smaller. There’s basically nothing to this film other than the plot, so I found it a little more irksome that the film didn’t seem to give much of a care to the plot. Fassbinder, at least in this film, appears to be the sort of director that is content with people having regular discussions about nothing in particular, even if the result doesn’t really come across as particularly engaging to a film audience. Most of the dialogue in this film is superfluous, and serves only to fill in the silence that would otherwise be there if it were gone. Thus, the plot developments come off as perfunctory; there is no reason to be engaged with the film and with Fox as a character because the film is so disengaged with itself. That said, the one real compliment I can give Fassbinder on the technicals is his sense of the frame, and the sense of the characters within the frame; he always seems to put the camera in exactly the right place, with exactly the right motions, to keep the focus on exactly what he needs to in any given scene. It’s a rare talent for a director to intrinsically have, but Fassbinder mostly gets it right.
All told, there wasn’t very much to this one, which was a disappointment given the other two Fassbinder films I’ve seen. In hindsight, I probably should’ve expected this, as Maria Braun was generally mainstream Fassbinder, and Ali was Fassbinder’s ode to Douglas Sirk and his melodramas, so this is really my first encounter with Fassbinder as an influence to and of himself. To that end, I wasn’t all that impressed, but then again, the film is not really meant to be impressive; it’s a moral tale, almost a fable, following one man as he lets quickly wrought riches drown him in a river he has no business swimming in. In that, the film works, but only barely. Without having seen Fassbinder’s earliest work on the list, if I were to whittle down the director’s representation in the Book, this would in all likelihood be the one I would start off with.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10