Fox and His Friends (1975)
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Saturday, June 30 at 92YTribeca's "Overdue" as part of their three nights of Fassbinder double features
His films easily outnumber his themes, but no director ever explored indoctrinated, casual human cruelty with as much raw-nerved despair. In Fox and His Friends, Fassbinder plays Fox, a gawped-at carnival act who doesn't learn true exploitation until he wins the lottery and falls sincerely in love. "Posh and prissy" boyfriend Eugene (Peter Chatel) shudders at Fox's table manners (not using sugar tongs, ripping into bread, ordering beer), as he cold-bloodedly monetizes Fox's devotion so as to maintain his own ruling class status. There are lots of bathhouse cocks, but it's only a detail here that most of the men are openly gay. It's not homophobia, as some original viewers charged, that so many of the (gay) men here are manipulative human-users, only an equal opportunity cry of dissent against larger unfairnesses.
As in In a Year of 13 Moons, with its blunt slaughterhouse metaphor, emotional exploitation is equated with the physical. At the carnival, the curious pay to see Fox's "Talking Head". When the cops shut down the tent (jailing Fox's manager-lover), he's forced to turn tricks with his body, undisguisedly advertised in tight trousers (the camera's often hovering at genital-level). To the question "Does he have something in his pants?" Fox's elder sugar daddy replies "Enough for me." After the lottery win, it's only Fox's checks anyone wants, and it's the cruelest sting yet because his brain, body and newfound love can go die for all the world cares.
The dandy leech Eugene is a sort of modish 70s echo of Oscar Wilde's insolent poet-lover Lord Alfred Douglas. While the street-rough, monoglot Fox is no Wilde, his love is just as recklessly unconditional, and he does have his own cool taste (Elvis, the ubiquitous-in-Fassbinder Leonard Cohen) and prideful intelligence ("Some people have order in the cupboard, others have order in their head"). Fassbinder crucifies this basically decent character for the fatal crime of naïve, true devotion.