Rainer Werner Fassbinder Jonathan Rosenbaum - Essay

Jonathan Rosenbaum

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Fassbinder] has been devoted to social reform and the perpetuation (through updating) of the dominant codes of narrative cinema. Far from being "radical" or "subversive", as has often been claimed, his cinema is liberal in the best and most hallowed sense of the word…. In Faustrecht der Freiheit [Fox]—working with narrative elements traceable back to [Erich von] Stroheim and von Sternberg as well as Sirk—he is relating a fable of class exploitation within a homosexual milieu that is rather obvious and predictable in overall design, but clever and nuanced in many of its individual details. The cultural snobbery of Eugen, his parents and his friends is underlined far past the point of necessity or plausibility (leading to a howler when his mother describes seeing the "Firebird Suite" at the opera), and some of the eventual cruelties of the clan similarly seem too clearly designed to ram home a thesis. But on the other hand, the actual movement of the money is delineated with refreshing sharpness…. Gullible from the word go and scarcely the master of a destiny that seems sealed before the end of the first reel (with the camera stationed at a low angle before he trips and falls near a lottery counter), Fox is a sentimental victim of no mean proportions, and Fassbinder's casting of himself in the part against type has the advantage of making the role somewhat more palatable: an unromantic hero if ever there was one …, he brings some rudimentary counterpoint to the fable through the sheer unwholesomeness of his appearance…. [The] sinister Max finally comes to seem a much closer surrogate for the writer-director than the figure of Fox himself.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, "Feature Films: 'Faustrecht der Freiheit' ('Fox')," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1976), Vol. 43, No. 504, January, 1976, p. 6.