Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ‘Fox and his Friends’ on Max and Criterion Channel

The original German title, “Faustrecht der Freiheit,” which roughly translates as “Might makes right,” describes rather bluntly the crux of Fox and his Friends (Germany, 1975), a searing drama of predatory relationships and one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most acclaimed films.

Fassbinder takes a rare starring role as Franz—“Fox” to his friends—a gay carny thrown out of work when the cops close a fairground sideshow. Introduced to a group of cultivated homosexuals by an antique and art dealer (Karlheinz Bohm, star of the notorious Peeping Tom), he becomes involved with high class dandy Eugen (Peter Chatel), who finds the naïve, uneducated innocent easy prey when he unexpectedly wins a half million marks in the lottery.

Eugen alternately flatters and humiliates Fox, ridiculing his working class manners and tastes while sponging off his fast disappearing fortune. The story is partially autobiographical, inspired by Fassbinder’s own relationship with an illiterate butcher. In real life, Fassbinder bullied his lover, who ultimately took his own life. He casts himself in the role of victim in the cinematic incarnation, delivering a sweet, wounded performance, and turns his tormentor into a veritable vampire. He commented later: “That’s one of the reasons I made the film, to change the kind of relation and become more like Fox.”

Biographical concerns aside, it remains one of Fassbinder’s most affecting, accomplished, and personal films and he delivers a sweet, wounded performance as the proletariat Fox in a den of cultured, upper-class hounds. His evocation of the affluent gay community is catty and brittle, but ultimately this powerful drama is less about sexual orientation than class, power, and sexual control.

Adrian Hoven costars with Fassbinder regulars Harry Baer, Kurt Raab, Brigitte Mira, and Ingrid Caven.

In German with English subtitles.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Fox and His Friends (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Fox and His Friends (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases include interviews with actor Harry Baer and filmmaker Ira Sachs, exceprts from archival interviews with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and composer Peer Raben, and a booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Koresky.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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