A fool and his money are soon parted.
Franz Biberkopf (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Veronika Voss) or Fox–as he’s known to his old friends–would be first to admit that he’s none too bright, and lest you think he’s exhibiting false modesty or just plain being too hard on himself, consider this: As our story opens, a carnival crowd gathers before the stage for a sideshow, featuring “Fox, the disembodied head,” introduced as “A man like you and me, but with his head severed from his body.”
For a just a measly $2.50 ticket, you can not only behold this death-defying abnormality (“A miracle of surgery!”), you’re also invited to ask him questions. But just before ringmaster Klaus (Karl Scheydt, The American Soldier) wraps up his spiel, policemen charge the stage to take him away on an arrest warrant. Hearing all the commotion, Fox comes through the curtains to see what all the trouble’s about, revealing to the audience that his face, perfectly matching the one on the marquee, has suddenly sprouted a body to carry it around—and scene!
Now unemployed and homeless, Fox (ringmaster Klaus–now off to do a three year bit–was his lover and keeper) eases his pain by trolling for dates in public lavatories and forgoing any plans for job hunting, preferring instead to pin his hopes on winning the national lottery–which he does, to the tune of half a million dollars.
Nothing attracts like excess and Fox soon finds himself among a privileged set, where only the best will do: the fanciest restaurants, the finest wines, the most tasteful furnishings and only the epitome of sartorial elegance. You don’t get rich by giving it away, as the saying goes, so when the bill comes, why not let the new guy pay? And so it goes.
A clumsy flirtation at a swanky get-together leads to a nattily attired new boyfriend named Eugen (Peter Chatel, Lili Marleen), who takes it upon himself to become Henry Hill to Fox’s Eilza Dolittle; instructing him in the ways of the upper crust. Fox, blinded by love, never sees it coming. Or going. And before he knows it, Fox has not only purchased the deluxe penthouse apartment the two cohabit, but also happily agrees to float a loan of one hundred thousand dollars to Eugen’s family business, which is suffering but a temporary setback–liquidity problems, don’t you know?
It’s not as if Fox’s old friends don’t try to warn him, but here his deficiency of wit handicaps him. They just don’t understand, Fox tells himself. Famous last words.
Criterion brings Fox and His Friends to Blu-ray in a spanking “New 4K digital restoration, undertaken by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation.” The 1.37:1/1080p transfer wrings every last bit of lurid beauty of its mid ‘seventies detail and though the uncompressed monaural soundtrack comes in second, you’ll hear everything just fine. Optional English subtitles are available for those who sprechen kein Deutsche.
Extras include a new interview with actor Harry Bär (The Merchant of Four Seasons), who has a key role in the film as one of Fox’s new “friends,” and another with director Ira Sachs (Little Men), discussing how his own career has been influenced by Fassbinder’s example. The man himself appears in a brief clip from French chat show Cinémania, circa 1975, and composer Peer Raben discusses his longtime collaboration with the director via a 1981 interview excerpted from Pour le Cinéma. The set also comes with a dandy looking four-color booklet featuring photos and an essay by film critic Michael Koresky. Finally, there’s a look-in at the original theatrical trailer, which may shock American audiences with its full-frontal male nudity.
The excruciating sensation of watching Fox’s long hard fall is a testament to the brilliance of Fassbinder–clearly at the peak of his powers here–not only as writer/director, but in actor guise. Though the tendency to assume such a person is playing a fictional version of one’s self on-screen, multiple sources in the know have insisted that this wasn’t the case at all and even point to Fassbinder’s ability to whittle his normally beefy frame down to suit the character. Fox and his Friends no doubt also benefits from being stocked (both in front of and behind the camera) with long-time collaborators, sympathetic to the film maker’s process. If you’re looking for a worthy addition to your fine film collection, stop here. On the other hand, if you’re allergic to anything but happy endings and are repulsed by the idea of swinging dicks–literal and figurative–then move on; there’s nothing for you to see here.