Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Karlheinz Böhm (a.k.a. Karl-Heinz Böhm), Adrian Hoven, Christiane Maybach, Harry Baer (a.k.a. Harry Bär), Hans Zander, Kurt Raab
Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Hohoff
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 123
Date: 05/01/1975

Fox and His Friends (1975)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jackpot of All Trades

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Rainer Werner Fassbinder practically sweated films. Coming from the German New Wave of the 60s and 70s (which also included Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders), Fassbinder (1945-1982) poured out something like 40 films in his brief 37 years of life before he committed suicide in 1982 with a drug overdose.

Fassbinder was also the heir apparent to Douglas Sirk, concentrating mostly on gut-wrenching melodramas, doomed romances and other volatile relationships. Because he worked so fast, his films all have a sense of urgency and potency, as if no other film matters in that moment.

To save time, he also worked with the same cast and crew again and again, including the great cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who went on to photograph many of Martin Scorsese's films, including Gangs of New York.

Now, both Wellspring Media and Fantoma Films have finally begun releasing many of Fassbinder's films on DVD. One of Fassbinder's own personal favorites, the powerful Fox and His Friends (1975) may also be the greatest gay-themed film ever made (alongside Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together).

Fassbinder delivers a powerfully intuitive performance -- quite the opposite of his ferocious offscreen persona -- as Fox, a former circus worker forced to go straight when his boss is arrested. He wins the lottery and falls into the company of some sleazy, well-to-do types, who eventually cause him to spend his entire fortune.

Carl Boehm (a.k.a. Karlheinz Böhm), best known as the clean-cut killer in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) co-stars.

Fox Lorber's 2002 DVD was a welcome, if bare-bones edition, but now the Criterion Collection updates it with a beautiful DVD and Blu-ray release. The grungy, 1970s look now pops with strong reds and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack (on the Blu-ray). Extras include new interviews with actor Harry Baer, filmmaker Ira Sachs, archival interviews with Fassbinder and composer Peer Raben, and a trailer. Film critic Michael Koresky provides the liner notes essay.

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