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Film Reviews

Life In The Fast Lane: Auto Focus

I didn’t hear of Bob Crane because of his acting on Hogan’s Heroes or his film roles. I knew of his legacy because of his unsolved murder and sexual exploits. I’d heard of the novel by Robert Graysmith (Auto Focus) and became intrigued about the circumstances of his murder. The movie does deal with the murder and goes into Crane’s sexual life, but it also shows us the man he was before all of that. Narrated by the late Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) himself, the movie never feels judgmental of its subject. It paints a picture of a life cut a short.

Bob Crane: radio host, occasional actor, and (perhaps most of all) family man. He desperately wants to make it in Hollywood. When Crane’s agent offers him the leading role in a comedy pilot about a German P.O.W. Camp called “Hogan’s Heroes”, he is hesitant but eventually takes the chance. It will be a better way for him to support his wife (Rita Wilson) and children. It’s also a chance for him to be in the public eye and as the show becomes a hit, so does Bob. Along the way, Bob meets John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), an employee of the video department at Sony. Bob and John hit it off and begin a destructive friendship. John introduces Bob to the strip clubs and wild parties. John also introduces Bob to the wonders of video technology, which include the ability to record your every sexual act. Their friendships leads to an obsession with all things sexual.

Auto Focus

Though Bob likes to consider himself a family man, it seems he has always had a fascination with sex. At one point early in the movie, he is confronted by his wife Anne about a collection of nude magazines. Though she is distressed about them, Bob appears to feel they are very natural. He loves them because he loves photography. With encouragement from friend John Carpenter he begins to fully embrace his sexuality. His fame is a helpful tool at seducing women and eventually all of this leads to a full blown sex addiction. In one Scene, Bob quips “A day without sex is a day wasted.” This thought seems to become his philosophy. Bob spends his time sleeping with different women, compiling a photo album filled with pornographic pictures, and editing videos of his and Carpenter’s sexual exploits. Bob is also dealing with life after “Hogan’s Heroes” and trying to maintain a successful career. Bob’s career and family take the back seat to his sexual addiction until eventually all he has left is John Carpenter.

Two Guys on a Couch

Greg Kinnear is perfect as Bob Crane. He has the same “guy next door” quality the Crane himself possessed. The jacket Kinnear wears in the movie is the same Bob Crane wore on “Hogan’s Heroes”. It is eerie how similar the two look. Kinnear is captivating and at times painful to watch; to see him slowly lose control of his life due to his addiction is not an easy thing to witness. In one scene, Bob goes to visit his son, with whom he has not had much contact. It is incredibly heartbreaking because at this moment you see how far gone he really is. I personally had to look away because it was just too sad to see. Halfway through the movie, Bob is virtually unrecognizable. Kinnear adds an element of creepiness and sleaziness to his character that was not there to begin with. One of the reasons I felt so strongly about this movie was due to Kinnear’s tragic performance; it is one to be remembered. Willem Dafoe gives a wonderful supporting performance as John Carpenter. There is such a desperation to his character that only the talented Dafoe could bring.

Greg Kinnear

The movie feels like you’re watching two different films, and this is a quite shocking effect. At first it starts off on a very light note, showing all of the sex in a comedic light. Halfway throughout the movie, there is a very noticeable change as Bob begins to descend further into addiction.The movie takes on a very dark, grimy tone. We begin to see the sordid underbelly of Hollywood. The sex is no longer comedic. It becomes routine, a new set of girls nightly. Often times these girls are not in focus on screen or we just see parts of them in pictures. The picture it self looks murkier and at times is clearly out of focus. It gives us the idea that this is how Bob sees things.

Director Paul Schrader is mostly known as the writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull but it’s a shame he is not as well know for his directorial efforts– some are just as great, particularly Auto Focus, which gets under your skin. Though it has been hours since I watched the movie, it is still lingering in my mind. It is truly an underrated masterpiece.

By Marissa Rose 03/14/11


For more on voyeurism: Peeping Tom
For even more on voyeurism: Blatant, Beautiful Liar: de Palma’s Body Double



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