Fox and His Friends Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Fox is better known to the community as “Fox the Talking Head,” his moniker in the sideshow. It’s a steady gig, although surely not the most ideal atmosphere. In a blink, though, it is gone, as his boss is arrested on the spot for fraud. From there, Fox must ask–or, rather, beg–for any money he can.
A former sideshow attraction is no help and neither is his sister (Christiane Maybach, Richard Brooks’ $). Fox, whose real name is Franz Bieberkopf (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, also writer and director), eventually dupes a local florist into forking over some money, and with it, Fox purchases a lottery ticket, with which he wins 500 German marks (equivalent to about $300,000 2017 U.S. dollars). The money quickly shows its influence, and Fox comes to be an entirely different sort of attraction.
One individual who turns his eye towards Fox is Eugen (Peter Chatel, Fassbinder’s TV movie MARTHA). It turns into an affair and the introduction of a world Fox is less familiar with. Eugen takes him to a restaurant, but Fox can’t read the language; there, he’s urged to try the turtle soup, but he puts his nose up like a child and requests noodle soup. Later, he visits Eugen’s business, which he’s informed could use extra funds; he turns over a fifth of his winnings. Soon after, Eugen is forced out of his apartment; he buys one immediately, furnishing it lavishly. While deals are being made, Eugen informs Fox that he must start dressing to new standards–one wonders whose standards he means.
It’s a cycle that illustrates how naive Fox is, but also, perhaps most importantly, how manipulative those around him are. Money is a great tempter and the key to the inner circle in FOX AND HIS FRIENDS. This circle portrayed in FOX AND HIS FRIENDS may not be our idea, but it exists and it is displayed as a warm thing through Fox’s actions.
Director Fassbinder (1974’s ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, 1973’s WORLD ON A WIRE) doesn’t shy from making a clear commentary on the dangers and allure of money, as well as the influence and phoniness of a higher class. That Fox gets eaten up and spit out so easily isn’t as much a character development here as it is a defining statement on the sway of money and the role materialism plays in society.
FOX AND HIS FRIENDS often skews towards melodrama (particularly in its finale), but the points are not lost. This is a cutting film that has a sharp commentary at its core and themes on full display. It outlines, occasionally through humorous means, what defines us. As Fox moves through his journey, his decisions feel less made by him and more dictated by others. Fassbinder seems to be saying, It is not you that defines you, but rather others; It is not your choices that define you, but rather those thrust upon you. Fox is an ignorant character not because he wants to be, but because people like Eugen insist he is. As such, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS stands as one of Fassbinder’s standout films on the ideas of power, influence and loneliness.
Video: “Created by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, this new digital transfer was creaked in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera negative at ARRI Film & TV Services in Munich, where the film was also restored.”
FOX AND HIS FRIENDS looks quite nice here, with a much healthier presentation than has been previously available on home video.
Audio: “The original monaural soundtrack was restored from the 17.5 mm magnetic track by the Fassbinder Foundation.”
The audio transfer is also without issues, which will surely delight fans.
Harry Baer (16:56): Baer, who played Philip, discusses working with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, as well as the setting, characters, release and more of FOX AND HIS FRIENDS.
POUR LE CINEMA (5:09): In this excerpt from a 1975 episode of the French series, Fassbinder discusses FOX AND HIS FRIENDS.
CINEMANIA (2:50): In this brief excerpt from a 1981 episode of the French television series, composer Peer Raben reflects on his working relationship with Fassbinder
Ira Sachs (12:28): Filmmaker Sachs (LOVE IS STRANGE) shares his admiration for Fassbinder and FOX AND HIS FRIENDS.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by film critic Michael Koresky.