I can’t really piece together how this ended up in the top spot of my queue, but once it got there I was looking forward to it, as the idea of vicious queens taking advantage of a suddenly rich gay sop seemed pretty compelling… and I didn’t have any idea of the half of it. This is a very rich gay film that pointedly takes a departure from the majority of gay films, which don’t have very much critical to say about other gay people. True, maybe this one goes too far in the other direction… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We open with a nice shot of a carnival—I believe with a shot of a Ferris Wheel, which would be appropriate [you go up… and come down]—and slowly crane down to the level of a car watching this one particular booth. The guy on stage is introducing these various whores who are going to strip if you pay money—God, don’t you wish there was still public indecency like this, instead of everyone individually whacking off to their private internet connection?—but soon cops step on stage and arrest the barker, Klaus. He kisses goodbye to his male lover, who now must shift for himself. This is Fox, played by co-writer and director Fassbinder himself. He’s named Franz, but goes by Fox, because in the sideshow he plays “Fox, The Speaking Head.” He is now out of a job and his lover will be in jail for three years. He goes over to the apartment he shares with his horrible sister Hedwig [she is big, over-made-up and blonde, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that she played some part in inspiring John Cameron Mitchell’s play and film], where he insists that he’s going to win the lottery. He’s just going to win this time, that’s all there is to it.
Fox is cruising outside a restroom when he meets this posh fellow Max. Fox is a tough cruiser—he goes in the restroom, but when followed in, comes right out. He stands there, ignoring Max, until Max gets back in his car, then Fox slowly walks once right in a circle around the car before finally getting in. On the drive, he realizes he has to play the lottery by 6:30, because he just knows for sure that he’ll win, and he has no money. He tells Max to pull over at a florist, telling him to honk twice once he gets inside. The florist is gay and makes no bones about fancying Fox, but when Max honks, Max pretends like he needs to give him 10 Marks now, and can he borrow it for just on second… he gets the money and just takes off. They make it to buy a lottery ticket just in time. All this while you’re thinking “Oh my, this Fox fellow is hot, but he’s a real mess.” I think many gay people will be familiar with the type. But surprise, in the next scene we find out—Fox did end up winning! Half a million marks! Of course I have no idea how much that amounts to, but everyone treats it as quite a bit of money.
So he’s hanging around Max, who seems to have a fair amount of money, and Max has his friends over, a group of the most snide, cattiest, mincing little bitches you are ever likely to encounter. They sit and openly mock and belittle Fox, within his earshot, for being so lower-class. The thing is, Fox has his own capital to hold his own at this point, in the simple fact that he is ridiculously hot, working class [i.e. more of a “real man”], and is said to have a huge cock. It was very refreshing and intriguing, as a gay person, to see these dynamics explored so bracingly in a movie. Anyway, THEN Max tells the group that Fox just won all the money, and they suddenly find him quite a bit more interesting. At this point these guys Eugen and Philip are together. Fox playfully dances with Philip, then they are caught by Eugen, the haughtiest member of the Global Eternal Order of the Haughty, Haughty Queens. Fox, who is hot and knows it, stands there looking boldly at Eugen. Eugen drives him home, and they have sex together, then Philip comes in, and is appalled to find Fox there. Eugen pretends like he can’t see what the problem is. “Just a little infidelity,” he says. “Why are you upset?”
Then Fox goes to this dreadful gay bar that is… pretty much worse than anything you could ever imagine, with nightmarish décor in reds and yellows and whites and animal patterns, and a nightmarish clientele of the bitchiest vicious queens, like, ever, and… it’s all making me think I should appreciate my gay elders more for making it through the years when this kind of thing was all there really was. Without killing themselves. So Fox is there, and says he is seeing someone new, but he’s a little posh and prissy. Then who should happen to come in, but Eugen—who we are to understand would otherwise never be caught dead in such a trashy, working class gay bar—and the bartender immediately [and UNCTUOUSLY] lets him know that Fox said he was posh and prissy. THAT’S the kind of people we’re talking about here. Eugen takes Fox out to an expensive restaurant, where he is appalled by Fox’s uncouth manners and lack of sophistication.
SPOILERS > > >
Soon Fox is signing a contract loaning a fifth of his money to Eugen’s family’s business. They read through the contract, but the only part Fox is really interested is the part that states that when the loan is repaid, he will become a partner in the company. Soon after, Klaus is suddenly released from prison, and Fox gives him a loan of 30,000 Marks to get started—less than he gave Eugen—but Eugen advises him against it and seems piqued about it. Fox gets an apartment for he and Eugen, but he furnishes it to his own taste of what is elegant—which is all this horrible, flutey baroque stuff. It’s hideous. In here we also find out that Eugen brought in Fox because he knew the family business was in trouble, and something needed to be done to save it.
At a certain point they have a party, with Eugen’s snooty friends and Hedwig. She gets drunk and makes passes at all the gay guys, then finally causes a huge scene, causing Eugen to nearly have a conniption. Fox argues that it’s his apartment and his party, and he should be allowed to invite who he wants. Eugen is at the stage where he is past even trying to be civil to Fox, and his dialogue is all that oh-so-common-to-the-gay-world-of-the-past thing where virtually everything he says is a snide, hate-filled bitchy put-down, alternating with feigned hurt and shock when Fox calls him on it. But mostly now Fox is just outsmarted and defeated. After the party, and their fight, Fox suggests that they take a vacation, and Eugen seems to think “Yes, Fox paying for a vacation for me might just be nice.”
Eugen decides that they’ll go to Morocco, where the travel agent suggests they might pick up “an Arab.” They are not there long before an Arab does indeed present himself, and it’s Saleem—Ali from one of Fassbinder’s best-known films, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and also Fassbinder’s lover for some time. They have him to lunch, and Fox wants to know if he’s got a big cock and how they pay for him. At this point Eugen is outright calling him an idiot right to his face. Then they get him back to the hotel and find that the hotel doesn’t allow Arabs into the hotel—but the hotel itself does offer “boys.” When they come back, there’s a crisis—the company is on the brink of disaster! Fox offers the apartment as collateral, which means signing it into Eugen’s name. By the way, Fox has been working doing menial labor at the company, under the impression that this is part of him learning the business and becoming a partner. At a certain point he screws up a job pretty bad [it’s a printing company] and loses the company a lot of money. By now Eugen is going to the opera with Philip and not buying a ticket for Fox, because he thinks Fox is just too dumb to enjoy it and furthermore he’d be appalled by his behavior. There are further scenes of Fox mortifying Eugen’s family at dinner, for example by putting bread in his soup, or playing simple-minded jokes. Soon Fox is having heart attack-like fits, to which Eugen responds to with “If you’re sick, see a doctor.”
It all comes crashing down in the last few minutes. Fox breaks up with Eugen—who claims he simply doesn’t know what relationship problems Fox is talking about, and if that’s what Fox REALLY wants… You’ll notice that Max is just hanging around during the break up, literally just listening and intruding. I found his intrusive presence infuriating, and think Fassbinder placed him around there for this purpose, because he does a similar thing just a few minutes later. Anyway, when Fox asks for his money back, Eugen informs him that his wages for the past two years were his repayment. When Fox mentions that no, that was payment for his work, Eugen tells him that no, he never had to work. That night Fox returns to the apartment to find that the locks have been changed. Here is where the second intrusive stranger appears, this nosy woman from upstairs who just stands there and watches him as he tries to get in. Finally Philip answers the door, and tells him that he doesn’t live there anymore [recall that he signed the apartment over to Eugen to save the company] and Eugen is simply too troubled to see him. In the last scene, Fox is lying dead on the floor of a train station. Two kids come by and rob him of the cash he gained by selling his sports car at far below market value. Max and Klaus [his original lover] come by and see him—but take off once they realize he’s dead, saying they don’t want to get involved. The kids come back and continue to rob him—picking over him in an image that seems to purposely evoke vultures—finally taking his signature jacket with his name on it. The end!
< < < SPOILERS END
I watched this in two parts, and having stopped halfway through, I was really into it and thought those who claim it is homophobic were those gays who just want everything to be super happy and refuse to acknowledge any negativity in the gay world. Once I finished it, I can see that they have a point. It does paint an extremely bleak view of gay people as individuals incapable of full emotional attachment, monstrously cruel toward others, and astonishingly selfish… to the point of homophobia. If Fassbinder had only included a few gay people who weren’t wholly horrible, it would be a different story, but here they are all invariably monsters. So I can see where those who claim this film is homophobic have a point.
However, as is often the case, that is only one narrow way of viewing a tiny part of the vast amount this movie has to say. First, let’s keep in mind that there are also several venal straight people on hand here, and really no one emerges with any dignity, except perhaps Salem, the Moroccan hustler. Secondly, I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I have certainly had periods where I was thoroughly disgusted with the workings of the gay world and appalled by the behavior everyone within it, and I consider this movie to be one long, sustained expression of that kind of pain and despair. I suspect if we knew everything about Fassbinder’s life we might find one person or set of experiences that resulted in this film, and the character of Eugen. Let’s also keep in mind that this is the only film in which he stars in the main role, which also argues for it being a very personal statement he felt very connected to. So instead of resenting the movie as being homophobic, instead I feel bad that Fassbinder got to such a place where he was so very bitter toward all of humanity, and his fellow gays specifically. Awwww! Someone needs a big hug!
Nevertheless, as I said, I have been at or near that place before, and I found a lot of the criticism this movie lays out against certain gays fairly cathartic to watch—especially as an antidote to most gay films, in which typically all conflict intrudes from outside the gay world—usually with the evil straight people—and gay people are often portrayed as wonderful saints and paragons of even-balanced wisdom and compassion. I also really enjoyed seeing some things on screen you don’t normally see, such as bathroom cruising, and the whole dynamic toward the beginning that although Fox doesn’t have money, he has currency from being hot and having a big dick. The situation in which an upper-class, educated person takes up with a less-educated-but-hot person is also not unfamiliar, and I enjoyed seeing all of this portrayed in an interesting way, where being gay itself is not the issue and all of this is just presented factually and taken for granted. There’s also a lot to mull over in the issues of how a more repressive social atmosphere leads to gay men who identify as more feminine, and adopt bitchy, hateful attitudes. One can see, from one’s own life, how as gays grow generally more accepted, these types and the kinds of behavior they feel compelled to display toward each other grows less common. So to a gay person, this film offers a ton to process and contemplate.
Yes, especially if you're gay and want more out-of-the-way gay fare. I would just save it for that time when you're really, REALLY bitter.