The life of TV star Bob Crane and his strange friendship with electronics expert John Henry Carpenter.The life of TV star Bob Crane and his strange friendship with electronics expert John Henry Carpenter.The life of TV star Bob Crane and his strange friendship with electronics expert John Henry Carpenter.
`Auto Focus' certainly does not shy away from revealing many of the salacious details of this true-life story. Schrader deals head-on with the disturbing nature of a mind so all consumed with the subject of sex that all other aspects of life become obliterated and distorted. What's fascinating about Crane at least in the way he is depicted in this film is that he seems to have had some sort of self-destructive death wish, for not only does he risk his career by sleeping with countless women, but he insists on leaving behind the evidence by videotaping many of his encounters, and then flaunting his `accomplishments' to others in the Hollywood community. In a way, such a cavalier attitude only underlines the sickness at the core of Crane's soul which in a perverse, paradoxical way, actually makes Crane a more sympathetic figure than he otherwise might be. An enormous amount of credit for this also goes to Greg Kinnear who does a superb job of not only replicating Crane's style of acting but of showing us the tortured man Crane became in his later years. He was truly a man driven to madness by the demons within him, and we can all identify in some sense with that condition (our demons may not be sexual in nature, but they probably eat away at us just as ravenously as they did Crane). Kinnear gets outstanding support from Willem Dafoe as Carpenter, the Svengali-like figure who lures Crane into his world of photographed sex, and Ron Leibman, as Crane's well-meaning, caring agent who can do little but stand by helplessly as his client throws his career and his life away to feed this devouring passion.
The filmmakers have done an amazing job capturing the sights and sounds of the era in which the film is set. Especially impressive are the scenes recreating `Hogan's Heroes,' with Kurt Fuller, in particular, a standout as Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink). It's also fascinating to see the evolution of videotape technology as portrayed in the film. How many of us knew that such equipment existed for home consumption as early as the mid-60's?
There's a real sadness to the final stretches of the film, made all the more poignant by having the dirge-like musical score run uninterrupted under the action. The effect is that we really get a sense of the total desolation of Crane's life at that point as he has lost his family, his career, and his self-respect to the master he chose early on to serve. The loss of his life seems almost de rigueur given all that has gone before. `Auto Focus' is not always an easy film to watch, but for its unflinching look at an often-unappetizing subject, it deserves to be seen.
- Apr 5, 2003