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Case Number 02713

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Auto Focus

Sony // 2002 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 18th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

A day without sex is a day wasted.

Opening Statement

The troubled life and death of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane is one of the most scintillating mysteries in all of Hollywood. So scintillating, in fact, that in 2002 a movie was made about his sexually fueled antics starring Oscar nominees Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, We Were Soldiers) and William Dafoe (Spider-Man, Shadow of the Vampire), and directed by the acclaimed Paul Schrader (Affliction, Light of Day). Hollywood gossip buffs and TV fans finally get a peek behind the twisted curtain into the life of Bob Crane in Auto Focus, now available on DVD care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Bob Crane (Kinnear) was a man who seemingly had it all: charm, good looks, a devoted wife (Rita Wilson), and doting children. An actor who craved solid work in film and on the stage, Crane found his niche in the popular 1960s TV series Hogan's Heroes, playing the genial, likable title character. Working with a solid family life, Crane's world seemed perfectly stable on the outside…but on the inside, he harbored a dark secret: sexual addiction. At first Bob started playing the drums in various strip clubs in Los Angeles to whet his appetite. Then came meeting various women who were enamored to be in bed with a bona fide TV star. It soon escalated into something much more disturbing and destructive. Enamored with pornography and the female body, Crane eventually found a "soul mate" in John Carpenter (Dafoe), an electronics nut who introduced Crane to the wonders of video technology. Bob and John began a life long friendship that, at its core, involved the sexual seduction and videotaping of various women and girls. As the years went by Crane's life spiraled out of control—he lost his money, his fame, his family, and eventually his life when he was found dead in an Arizona apartment in 1978.

The Evidence

The life of Bob Crane cannot be summed up in a mere hour and forty minutes. I am positive that there was more to the Crane story than this film lets on. Many points of interest are skipped over and tidbits of vital information discarded. Of course, this isn't really the filmmakers' fault—you try telling the story of someone's entire life in under two hours and see what happens. [Editor's Note: No, I'm sure the particulars of my life could be summed up during an episode of "Attention Deficit Theater."] Any biography is going to miss some important facts dealing with why a particular person turned out a certain way. What really sparked Bob Crane's desire to ruin his entire life over meaningless sex? Why was he so blasé about it? These are questions that may never be answered.

Aside of the minor complain, Auto Focus is an enthralling movie that delves deep into the soft underbelly of stardom. Bob Crane's life was, in this film's opinion, a shallow and vacuous shell. Crane never seems very ashamed by his actions and addictions—the only time he shows any true remorse is when he is caught red handed by his wife, and even then it seems to be out of not shame but annoyance. "Sex is good, sex is natural," Crane quips in the film. But is it good when it takes over your whole life, destroying you one day at a time? I have the feeling that this was a question Mr. Crane never bothered to ask himself. Crane seems to be going through the motions of making love to several women. There's never a feeling that he is passionate about sex, but instead views it like water and food—it's a daily necessity that must be met. And in the end, it is speculated, that necessity is what killed Bob Crane.

While I've enjoyed Greg Kinnear's previous films, Auto Focus shows the actor in a completely different light. Kinnear's work here is nothing short of impressive—he quite literally inhabits the persona of Bob Crane. His personality, his nuances, his charm…Kinnear really pulls through with a grand performance that was certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination. William Dafoe is also excellent as John Carpenter (no relation to the horror director) who feeds Crane's hunger for sex and voyeurism. Dafoe is an actor who can be likable one minute and unbelievably creepy the next. Carpenter is a complex study since he relies so much on Crane for his hobbies and only wants to be liked—if it wasn't for Crane, Carpenter would have never ended up with many of his sexual conquests. We often see Carpenter and Crane's relationship mirroring that of a married couple—bickering and passion go hand in hand between the two men. This isn't surprising since Carpenter's sexuality (straight? gay? bi?) often comes into question, especially after he places his hand on Crane's buttocks in one scene. "It's an orgy!" Carpenter mutters. An orgy indeed—these guys make Hugh Hefner look like Billy Graham.

The movie is filled with sex, though the nudity is never gratuitous or nasty. The camera may linger momentarily, but its real focus is on Crane and Carpenter's relationship. Though there are scenes involving the actors from Hogan's Heroes, the film doesn't focus much on that aspect of Crane's life. Even though that part of his career is relegated to the background, the character actors playing the roles from the hit show—especially Kurt Fuller as the blundering Col. Klink—all mimic their performances well.

However much I enjoyed Auto Focus (if enjoyed is the word to use), it's a solid fact that this movie will appeal to only a limited crowd. Those without much knowledge of Hollywood history of the Hogan's Heroes series may find themselves a bit baffled by some of the references, or just altogether bored. But for those who love movie biopics—i.e.,The People vs. Larry Flynt, Ed Wood, Man on the MoonAuto Focus will be a real cinematic treat. Recommended.

Fun Fact: Bob Crane's son, Bob Crane, Jr., was a technical consultant on this film, and also had a minor role. Umm…that's just weird.

Auto Focus is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Once again, Columbia has done an excellent job at making sure this image is crisp and clean. The colors are bright and cheery (especially in the scenes set in the 1960s) and the black levels dark and solid. While there are a few minor imperfections in the image (some edge enhancement shows up from time to time), overall I thought this print appeared to be in very good shape.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Since this is a dialogue driven drama (with shades of comedy), the bulk of the track is front heavy with some ambient noise and background sounds filtering through the rear speakers. The soundtrack's biggest boost comes in the form of Angelo Badalamenti's haunting music score and the swinging hits of the 1960s and 1970s prominently displayed throughout the film. Otherwise, this is a rather subdued sound mix. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in French as well as English and French subtitles.

Columbia has given Auto Focus the "special edition" treatment with a nice array of extra features for fans to peruse through. Here's a rundown of what's on the disc:

Three Commentary Tracks with the Director, Writers and Producers, and the Cast: Three separate commentary tracks are available: One by director Paul Schrader, a second by Michael Gerbosi and producers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander [Editor's Note: Karaszewski and Alexander wrote the screenplay for Ed Wood.], and a third by Greg Kinnear and William Dafoe. For such a downer of a film, two out of three of these commentary tracks are light and sometimes humorous. The cast and writer/producer commentaries are filled with cracking jokes (Dafoe and Kinnear snap their fingers during the opening title sequence) and information on the origins of the film (the writer was working as a delivery boy at Jerry's Deli when a customer asked him to write the screenplay). Schrader's commentary is a bit more solemn and technical, though he manages to be a chatty guy, sharing a fair amount of stories and tidbits about the production and casting.

"Murder in Scottsdale" Documentary: This was easily the best feature on the disc, broken up into two parts. Though this documentary includes clips from the film, it's really a look at the real life murder case of Bob Crane. Interview subjects include the local authorities that were assigned to the case, Bob Crane's (now full grown) children (one of whom runs a website selling Crane's sex videos…ewwww), John Carpenter's widow, and various other participants. Actual photos, documents, and video from the crime scenes are included in this feature, so it's not for the squeamish or faint of heart. I'm not spoiling anything by divulging that the majority of the interviewee's opinions were that the late John Carpenter was the number one murder suspect of Bob Crane. This is a fascinating—and sometimes creepy—look into the murder case of Bob Crane.

Making-of Featurette: This is a very fluffy promotional piece for the film's release. Greg Kinnear, William Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, and Paul Schrader all dole out their opinions on the movie, the characters, and what it was like to make a movie about one of the most infamous murder cases in Tinseltown. This featurette is worth catching, though it's not half as good as the documentary on the real Bob Crane.

Deleted Scenes: Ten deleted scenes in total are available, each presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with optional director's commentary. Most of these scenes might have added a little more insight into the characters, though none of them are gems that should be rescued for a "director's cut." Schrader offers some thoughts on why these were cut in the optional commentary tracks.

Theatrical Trailers: Eight trailers are available, including Auto Focus, a red band R-rated trailer for Auto Focus, Blind Spot: Hitler's Private Secretary, The Man From Elysian Fields, Love, Liza, Pollack, Spider, and Talk To Her.

Closing Statement

For those who can handle a fair amount of nudity (I sat through Showgirls…I can take anything!), Auto Focus is worth checking out. Greg Kinnear gives a wonderful performance and the story is as juicy as anything you're likely to find in the National Enquirer (err, umm…not that I read that kind of crap).

The Verdict

I feel slightly dirty saying this, but Auto Focus is free to go. Naughty!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 85
Extras: 89
Acting: 97
Story: 82
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Biographical
• Drama
• Erotic

Distinguishing Marks

• Three Commentary Tracks
• Five Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary
• Making-Of Featurette
• Eight Theatrical Trailers
• "Murder in Scottsdale" Documentary

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site
• Bob Crane's "Official" Site








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