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Not for everybody, but definitely worth seeing
waltergl7 March 2003
I believe that this was the most severely underrated film of 2002, and it was also my personal favorite for a great year in film. Now, I sincerely doubt that many moviegoers would consider this one of the year's best, or even a great film, so this comes with a tentative recommendation. I wouldn't recommend this movie to just anybody, but I feel that fans of the prior work of Scorsese and Schrader will consider this a worthwhile endeavor. With this work Schrader continues his legacy of disturbed, distorted, doomed men whose selfishness and shallow nature ultimately lead them to great suffering as they destroy those who come close to them. Greg Kinnear's Bob Crane joins the likes of DeNiro's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, Gene Hackman's Harry Caul in The Conversation, and Nick Nolte's Wade Whitehouse in another Schrader masterpiece, Affliction. These are sad, empty men, for whom we can only half-sympathize; we feel for them because we suffer, but we condemn them because they force themselves and others to suffer.

The film follows the sexual exploits of Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane, the real-life star of Hogan's Heroes, who during and after the show became a full-blown sex addict, ruining two marriages and possibly sabotaging his career in the process. Willem Dafoe is John Carpenter (no, I know what you're thinking, and he's not), Crane's partner in crime who lacks Crane's charisma with women but is fed some scraps by Crane in return for his extensive knowledge of and access to video equipment. Crane's fetish is using the home video cameras to record his sexual trysts, which he reviews over and over again, looking for something that we can't see, and that he probably can't see either.

Kinnear and Dafoe's performances alone are worth the price of admission. This is the best, boldest, and most nuanced work that Kinnear has ever done. His performance is all subtlety and detail; he introduces Crane as a regular, aw shucks family man, but as the movie progresses we gradually see the facade fall as his quiet desperation and insatiable sexual appetite begin to consume him. Not content to go over the top and yell at the top of his lungs to be effective, Kinnear instead puts on a fake smile and charms with a velvety voice while openly degrading and hitting on women. The effect is one of the most genuinely creepy performances ever committed to film. Dafoe is the perfect companion to Kinnear's subtle predator; Carpenter is a pathetic loser, easily angered and easily hurt. He gets angry, yells, and does all of the things that you've seen Dafoe do in his other portrayals of guys you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, or a lighted one, for that matter. It's effective elsewhere, and it's effective here. Together, these men form a pair so utterly joyless and shallow that just seeing them on-screen together made my stomach churn. Their dialogue is only incidental, usually reminiscing on previous sexual escapades or planning new ones, but it's the little tics, gestures, Kinnear's untouchable confidence foiled by Dafoe's insecurity, Kinnear's hidden hunger foiled by Dafoe's overt desperation, that give these scenes their resounding power.

Not to shortchange Schrader's direction, though, which as usual is right on target for the material. He begins in a brightly colored, idealized suburban landscape, filled with all of the usual imagery you'd expect in this sort of light-hearted period and location. Then, slowly, he slides into darker territory, carrying us into the decadent seventies, breaking shots into shorter lengths, shaking the camera, depicting with his cinematography and editing the fall of his protagonist. Admittedly, the techniques Schrader employs here to depict Crane's breakdown have been used many times before, but I still found them extremely effective here.

For the last thirty minutes of the film, I felt genuinely ill; not because I thought the projector was out of focus, as many have complained, but because Schrader and Kinnear were taking me to a dark place and immersing me in it. As I said before, this type of film is not for everybody, but for those interested in the dark side of man, this film is not to be missed. I think that at the very least, the merit of these depressing morality tales is that they provide an exact blueprint of the way not to live our lives. I suppose that showing Crane checking himself into therapy and dealing with his problems and utimately healing himself would be valuable as well, but it wouldn't make for a good film, or a true one. Some people argue against the very existence of this type of movie. My response to them is that in real life for every strong-willed person who solves their problems and triumphs over adversity, there is another loser who ultimately fails to deal with life and implodes upon their own insecurity and weakness. Until this changes, someone needs to continue making these films.
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Focused drama
Roland E. Zwick5 April 2003
A cautionary tale of the dangers of sexual addiction, `Auto Focus' shows what can happen when a person attempts to lead a double life – in this case, a straight-laced family man by day and a pornography-obsessed playboy by night. In `Auto Focus,' the family man/pornographer turns out to be none other than the well-known actor Bob Crane, the star of TV's `Hogan's Heroes,' who was found murdered in a Scottsdale, Arizona hotel room in 1978 under mysterious and sensational circumstances that included the uncovering of tapes Crane had made of his own sexual experiences. The general public was shocked to discover that a man they had invited into their living rooms every week for six years had been living such an unsavory parallel existence – though those who knew him well were apparently far less shocked by the revelation. Drawing on Robert Graysmith's book `The Murder of Bob Crane' for its inspiration and viewpoint, the film, written by Michael Gerbosi and directed by Paul Schrader, chronicles the rise and fall of this handsome actor, from his days as a successful LA disc jockey and his meteoric rise to fame as star of a hit comedy series, to his growing obsession with promiscuity and pornography, which led to the disintegration of both his personal and professional life - and, ultimately, to his death, most likely at the hands of his buddy-in-sleaze, videographer John Carpenter (though he was never convicted of the murder).

`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.
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Obsession and Emptiness
Dehlia_20 April 2005
Actor Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), star of Hogan's Heroes, forms a friendship with a video enthusiast (Willem Dafoe) and together they become obsessed with sex, swinging, and photographing or filming the action.

This is a brilliantly disturbing movie. Kinnear carefully plays Crane as a blank-faced cypher who cannot see himself, and is comfortable with the surface of things. Thus photography is the perfect obsession for him; he can look without participating, even when he's looking at his own participation. Auto Focus is a clever title, referring to both the photography and the only person upon whom Crane can focus. He is lost in a world of obsessively meaningless behavior.

A look at IMDb's message board for the film shows that one of Crane's two sons is fighting the misinformation presented by director Paul Schrader and Crane's other son. It does seem that the movie distorts some biographical facts, but what biopic doesn't? This story of obsession and doom is worth much more than its attention to one man's biography.
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The Weird Story Of Bob Crane
ccthemovieman-119 March 2006
As anyone who is reading this knows, this was the story of TV's Bob Crane, star of "Hogan's Heroes," a popular show in the 1960s. The story of Crane, the one that makes him a subject of a major motion picture of his life, are two things: 1 - the good-guy TV hero was, behind the scenes, a huge sex addict; 2 - he was murdered, with no one ever convicted of the crime. To this day, it is still unsolved.

The movie hints very strongly that the killer was Bob Carpenter, played here by Willem Dafoe. Carpenter was a close friend of Crane's. Greg Kinnear does a credible job of portraying the television star.

However, the part about Crane's murder is only dealt with in the final minutes of the film! That was very disappointing and I was hoping to find out something or at least be given more information. They just kind tacked this on the end of the film.

Most of the film was about Crane's and Carpenter's escapades with women.....lots of women, beautiful and big-chested women, which you see in abundance in this film. Dafoe is the sleazy friend who introduces Crane to the beginning of the VCR age. That led to a whole bunch of sex-on-film and really whetted Crane's big sexual appetite.

Anyway, for people who watched "Hogan's Heroes," and there were plenty, this is a bio of him and perhaps, for those who know nothing about his death, who killed him.
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Hogan's Hardcore Sex Hero
Istvan Kolnhofer29 May 2005
Wow, is Greg Kinnear nothing short of amazing in this film or what! An incredible performance as Bob Crane, seriously virtuoso. When, towards the end, he visits his agent and is all messed up, and starts saying "sex is normal. I'm normal" - Kinnear reaches a pinnacle in his young film acting career. I have always felt that actors ascend to the next level of craft and stardom when they breakthrough with a biographical role; see - Denzel Washington in Malcom X, Ben Kingsley in Ghandi, Robert Downey Jr in Chaplin, Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. And now Greg Kinnear has made that leap with Auto Focus, a well-crafted and seductive film by Paul Schrader, Hollywood's last bastion of non-sugar coated filmmakers. Basically the story of Hollywood's most intriguing unsolved murder, Auto Focus also pulls back the curtain on "good guy" Bob Crane's lecherous and painfully discombobulated private and secret life. What is also amazing about this film is how is records the birth of video and the VCR. Bob Crane turns out to be one of the pioneer "users" of this technology. When we see or hear video, video cameras, or VCRs, we probably automatically think of home movies, recording episodes of Star Trek, or the Star Wars prequels' lack of cinematic quality. When Bob Crane heard about video cameras and VCRs, he automatically thought of sex. Though the film makes no mention of it, it is quite prophetic in showing us how the technology of video created hard-core pornography and turned it into a billion dollar industry. If you think about it, nothing has profited more from video than porno, and nothing ever relied so dearly on video like porno. Bob Crane instinctively felt this, though he never was a pornographer, so to speak; he knew that sex and video can go hand in hand. Unfortunately, this was also his downfall. Like most Paul Schrader writ or directed films, by the end you get that queasy feeling, the feeling you get at the end of Goodfellas, the feeling of sadness that this great ride is over and the feeling of emptiness and loss that all that greatness came crashing down. Bob Crane's descent into moral madness can be sickening, especially when juxtaposed with Hogan's Heroes. I almost felt the desire to shower, to cleanse myself after viewing this film. I love movies that produce reactions from me, movies that linger for days. This is one of them.
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it's kind of like a drug movie- actually, it really is, and an absorbing one
MisterWhiplash12 October 2006
After a while, I really did get more of what director Paul Schrader was aiming for with Auto Focus, the tale of males caught in some sort of odd damnation of both free will and morality. It's more like a drug movie, only here the drug being the opposite sex, and almost a singularly male ego-trip, instead of common narcotics. But it's also a very fine character study where the idea of character is taken into consideration, of how much one can seem a certain way, but then be stuck in with flaws and insecurities and, ultimately, temptation. The last of which is what Schrader puts into focus early on, but then after a while when temptation is gone, the film becomes a direct plunge into complete debauchery. And appropriately, like with all addicts, for a while nothing seems wrong at all about all of this.

Greg Kinnear is definitely in one of his best parts here, as he plays someone who is an actor who keeps his actor-like charms off the set as well. In Hollywood, away from the confines of Connecticut, his Bob Crane lands the lead on Hogan's heroes, but can't resist the first temptations of the night-life. This comes, in an introductory way and then throughout as a tag-along/counterpart, with John Carpenter (not the director, played with the best match by Willem Dafoe of being a creep and alluring at times), who shows him the ropes and hooks him up with video equipment. But as Crane goes deeper into his sexual drives, divorces, marries again and divorces again, his acting career and his livelihood seem to slip away. The themes of being perversely the 'All-American Male' are accentuated by Kinnear's Crane in voice-over as he talks about the unbridled joys of sex, and in an interview with a Christian publication he says 'I don't...make waves'. By the last third of his story, however, into the rot of the 70s, he's lost touch with the reality of his pleasures- or rather necessities.

Auto Focus isn't at times an easy movie to sit through; it's even cringe-worthy in a couple of scenes (notably for me was when he guest stars on a celebrity cooking show, only to keep on his sexually-driven side with audience members). Then there are other scenes (i.e. 'you have fingers up you-know-where', and the genital enhancement) where male masculinity is questioned, and in very peculiar ways between Crane and Carpenter; Crane is homophobic, but then what exactly is Carpenter's function? More than anything, less than being a friend, he becomes a kind of unintentional pusher, where the draw of going out on the town becomes a crux for both of the men. What's just as fascinating then is how Schrader aligns this with his style- the first half is mostly very slick and professional-looking, almost like an HBO bio-pic or something. But then as the characters lose a grip on everything except themselves, there's a hand-held, distorted view to everything. There's lots of nudity and on-screen sex (some blurred out, likely by MPAA request), yet Schrader gets something more shocking, in the mind at least, as Carpenter almost becomes the antagonist in a way as the story winds down (the last phone call marks this most).

Auto Focus has the ideal of the usual biographical drama of a somebody in Hollywood who soon loses himself to becoming a nobody, but there's plenty under the surface that makes it more intriguing. Crane's two sides to his persona- the celebrity one, and the personal 'lifestyle' one- become one and the same after a while, Kinnear being able to make such a near-irredeemable person somewhat sympathetic (or at the least very watchable). And Carpenter's more truthful, emotional, and scary turn is made palatable by Dafoe's equally nuanced performance. It's not great, but it's a near-classic of the tale-of-such-and-such-star when so many don't take in what's deeper into account. A-
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Complex film about a shallow man (spoilers)
Ricky Roma26 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Bob Crane is always going on about what a likable guy he is. Well, he may be polite and he may have a bland charm, but can a man who cheats on two wives and ruins two marriages really be classed as likable?

And Bob Crane also goes on about how normal he is. Well, yes, sex is normal and knocking about is hardly immoral, but this is a married man with children who is sleeping around. And not only that but he's a man who doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it. Apparently everyone else has the problem. But he's also a man who tapes his sex sessions and who watches them with his best buddy. Likable and normal he most certainly isn't.

What comes through strongest in Auto Focus is the strange homoerotic relationship between Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) and John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe). It's kind of a perverse love story. In the first scene they have together John almost serenades Bob. It's love at first sight. Then pretty soon afterwards they're scoring chicks together and filming their exploits.

In fact, the two characters kind of complete one another. At the beginning Bob is curious but kind of naive – he has 'photography' magazines and is almost embarrassed when he goes to his first strip joint – while John is horny and self-assured, but, being a mere mortal, can hardly be guaranteed to score every time. So when the bumbling Bob and the confident John hook up, they make a pretty good partnership.

And at the beginning things go well. With Bob's celebrity and John's electronic gizmos, they're bagging chicks and having fun. And at the start things are relatively tame – after years of dull marital sex, Bob is excited merely at the prospect of doing it with the lights on. But as things progress, the relationship between the two men gets more and more perverse. The first hint that this is more than mere macho tag-team screwing is the way they talk as they watch their tapes. John says to Bob, "Where have you been all my life?" While Bob says to John, "It's either him or me" (in reference to one of John's other customers, a customer that Bob doesn't like). This isn't a mere friendship.

Then there's the way that Bob gets outraged when he sees, via tape, that during an orgy John has had his hand on his arse. When you're filming sex tapes with your best buddy and watching them together, it seems rather churlish to complain about getting your bum groped.

But although they have a bit of a lover's tiff over this, they soon hook back up. And then, in an extraordinary scene, they watch another one of their tapes. At the time, Bob is saying how much he misses his wife and child. But immediately afterwards he and his best buddy begin masturbating as they watch one of their recordings. And then as they're abusing themselves, they begin to debate who the woman is and where it was filmed. To them, this is completely normal. It's ordinary. No wonder neither is capable of a healthy relationship – they've chosen the surface (photography and sex tapes) over anything with real meaning.

But that's one of the conundrums that Auto Focus presents. Where you're famous and when women are lining up to have sex with you (fame is the best lubricant), how can you be expected to exercise self-control? Surely that's every man's dream. Well, it probably is the dream of most men, and it can hardly be a surprise that Crane cheated on his wives, but what makes him so extraordinary is how completely lacking he is in self-awareness. He talks to priests, Christian magazines and his agent, seemingly sincere in the lies he spews ("I'm a one woman man." "Bob Crane is a good guy." "I'm normal."). He really does think that his wives are being unreasonable in expecting him to be faithful. He really does think that keeping an album of the women he's slept with, and showing it to other people, is okay. He really does think that there's nothing strange in watching sex tapes with his best buddy. His life is evidence of what happens when a shallow man with little intelligence is given fame.

But although the character is shallow, Greg Kinnear's performance is complex. He really doesn't a put a foot wrong. He's got the easy charm and wide-eyed confusion down pat. He plays Bob as a man who is always sincere, who is always polite and charming, but who is constantly hurting those around him. And his performance is also incredibly seedy. I particularly like the way that he leers at his son's girlfriend. The man has no self-control; no idea of social mores. And there's a great piece of acting when he gets a barman to put Hogan's Heroes on so that he can pick up a couple of women. He feigns surprise so well when one of the women asks him whether he's the man off the show that I wouldn't be surprised if Crane fooled himself into thinking that he didn't in any way manipulate these women when he was picking them up.

I also like scene when he receives a call from Disney. They want him for a film, a film called Superdad. The way that he juggles sleaze and respectability is impeccable – right before the call he talks to John about making a sex movie, and then he shows John his penis. Yep, that's Superdad.

But ultimately it's quite a sad film. Crane's death, being beaten while asleep, is both brutal and pathetic. Yes Crane wasn't a good man, nor was he a normal one, but he wasn't a bad man either. He certainly wasn't vindictive. He was just a sad, seedy little man who died a sad, seedy little death.
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A double life
ecjones195119 November 2004
Let's face it: Bob Crane was a lightweight actor, whose one-note portrayal of Col. Hogan in the unlikeliest sitcom hit of the 60s made him a household name. Personally, I never understood the appeal of either "Hogan's Heroes" or its star.

Greg Kinnear taps into Bob Crane, though, from the first frame.

The viewer learns that the pre-Hogan Crane was an affable, lovable kind of guy whose LA radio show had a big following. His agent sees him as a combination of Jack Lemmon and Jack Benny, a potential star of fluffy sex comedies with a benign sort of sex appeal and a knack for snappy one-liners All of that was a vast overestimation of Crane's talents.

Crane reveled in the fame that "Hogan" brought him, but he seems never to have taken a long view of his career. When the show ended he was left rudderless and idle, having slowly cut the ties that bound him to ordinary life -- his work, a stable home life, and his religious faith.

While he coasted, Crane took advantage of the easy, cynical charm he conveyed on screen to lure women. By the dozen. I think he probably enjoyed being the least likely man in Hollywood to skulk strip clubs looking for prey, and to devote thousands of yards of videotape to his exploits with them. But his naivete is telling: Crane allows himself to be led into a netherworld by John Carpenter, (Willem Dafoe), who teaches him that putting sex on film is more fun than having it. And there is a brief scene where Crane meets a dominatrix and reveals himself as not quite savvy enough to play this game to win.

Addictions tend to claim those who are on the way up or the way down. Even before Peg Entwistle famously jumped off the Hollywoodland sign in 1922, there have been scores of aspirants to fame or has-beens whose compulsions have killed them, leaving their work on screen the least compelling,least-remembered part of their lives.
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Believable - but tepid - exploration of a minor celebrities' slide in to bad company and sexual obsession.
Peter Hayes11 December 2004
Bob Crane was a well known TV face whose lopsided grin and cheeky-chappie personality took him to fame and (modest) fortune with the 1965-71 TV series Hogan's Heroes (a family safe rip-off the film Stalag 17); but like many that have passed before him, his human weaknesses - in his case towards free love, porn and sleaze - provided his ultimate downfall.

This is 1,000 word review that could go, exclusively, many ways: The most obvious would be simply to review the film as an entertainment piece, which while fair and valid, wouldn't tell the whole story. The second would be as an exploration of the moral questions raised, taking on the very nature of "addiction and obsession." A third would be to review the nature of show biz itself and how - like Crane - you can easily go from "flavour of the month" to being "last year's model."

In many ways the above debates are more interesting than the film itself: which while being both credible and interesting, never bursts in to full flame. Indeed it spends long periods not really going anywhere or doing anything other than following Crane and his self-styled "best friend" John Carpenter (not the famous director!) - played by the oddball part specialist William Dafoe - from one sexual encounter to the next.

(The filming of these sexual encounters, while true and unquestioned, adds nothing to my understanding of Crane himself. The act would have happened, filmed or unfilmed. Indeed I never did learn whether he had any REAL interest in photography - which he claims in the film proper - beyond using it as a device for gaining extra sex gratification. Equally how expensive is the early video equipment and his all-embracing sex hobby? Are these the only reason he is broke after six years playing the lead in a hit TV show? )

Some of this party-to-party time would have been better spent explaining the early life of Crane, allowing us to understand "where he comes from" better. Is he a classic case of someone who married too young and ended up spliced to his "mother?" And like real mother's they are always finding embarrassing items hidden around the house!

(However even this argument becomes devalued when you consider his second marriage - to a contrasting blonde libertarian sex pot - also ended in acrimony and divorce!)

Given that this is a film of "best guesses", mine would be that Crane never really had a proper teenage life (he came from a strict Catholic household) and wanted to live his out decades after the fact. This film wants to portray him as someone who was lead astray by others, simply because that is easier to explain than someone who changes course dramatically of their own freewill.

Crane was approaching middle age when he first met the techno-wizard (and fellow sexual traveller) John Carpenter, his sexuality and taste simply couldn't have been influenced by any outside parties so late in life. Outsiders could only have been facilitators to living it out. Nevertheless his wider actions show a curious lack of maturity, who else would skip off work on a prime-time TV show in order to play drums behind some cheap stripper?

Director Paul Schrader (of Taxi Driver fame) has obviously being watching a lot of TV movies recently and scratching his balding pate over how to cover familiar material (family man presented with temptation, rise and fall, wages of sin, etc.) without cliché. Not to mention filming what is unfilmable: The inside of another man's head!

He has come up with only partial answers and a few professional fudges: Starting with a very standard approach (complete with horrible "cold fact" giving voice-over about Hogan's Heroes) before slowly sliding in to the modern "creeping hand-held camera with filters" approach and technique.

(Something that works quite well with some productions, presumably because we are used to documentary and news being presented in this manner. Maybe we, subconsciously, mistake poor production quality with reality? Here it adds little.)

Greg Kinear does an excellent job portraying not only Crane the ham actor, but also Crane the daydream believer and sex junkie. While going a little glassy-eyed and unfocused is in the scope of most actors, Kinear never goes over-the-top while slowly losing the plot. He also remains strangely sympathetic while exploiting his own fame and position for sexual purposes: A male perspective, but all I have.

The film starts with Crane - the LA DJ - spouting the happy-go-lucky banalities that radio professionals go in for, before being further introduced as a bouncy "success story" who is "going places in radio-land." However he want to act and employs a ("touch wood") agent to find him the right part. The upshot is an unlikely comedy about an unlikely German concentration camp.

He is a non smoking, non drinking, church going Christian, who rushes straight home - post radio show - to his long time straight-laced wife and picture-perfect children. In other words, a great place to start a sexual and moral slide from!

Crane, like many empty men that stumble in to things that make their heart go boom-bang-a-bang for the first time, hasn't the wit and wherewith all to see the limits and short comings of their new found hobby. He didn't realize that not everybody took his easygoing view of casual sex and by not being selective he alienated people.

No one should die because they enjoy casual consenting sex or cheat on their wives, but Crane died never having learnt there was (and is) a life beyond cheap thrills and that your casual actions can hurt the ones you love the most. A simple message, but Auto Focus takes 105 minutes to get it across.
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Great film!
tmolthan4 November 2002
Auto Focus is a great film. The only shortcoming is does not give you enough background on Bob Crane's life before his starring role on "Hogan's Heroes". But Greg Kinnear plays him well, and Willem Dafoe as the sleazy opportunist John Carpenter is fantastic as he goes from creepy to desperate and scary. I wouldn't say that this film's for everyone, but it's well done, and there isn't another one like it that I've seen.
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"I couldn't blame him; men gotta have fun."
t1n021129 November 2004
This is a movie about a man's downfall; in this case, sex. I saw this right after 'Requiem for a Dream'(I guess I was in an addictive mood). This is a sad movie, but not on par with 'Requiem'. I never knew the sordid details about 'Col. Hogan', but this movie laid it out for me. The acting is very good. As other's viewers have noticed, the cinematography and music matches the decline of Crane's life. I was very depressed near the end. There is an obvious implication of his friend Carpenter in his murder, and outside of a court of law, many people would believe it. It's like a weak Oliver Stone/JFK, but still believable. Kind of like a required homework assignment that they may never get credit for, yet execute at 100 percent and show their merit. It wasn't a box office movie, but I believe it's worth watching, and it is exemplarary work by the actors. Maybe it needed more supporting character development, maybe longer screen shots.
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Soldiering, Winking, Filming
tedg28 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Paul Schrader simultaneously fascinates and repels me. That's because he has such intelligent ideas for films, and then makes then in such a pedestrian fashion the inspiration is all but trod away.

And his ideas are so very clever in addition to being intelligently cinematic. Here's the notion behind this one:

America is a synthetic nation and has depended heavily on film to define itself since World War II. The trunk of this tree is the war picture, in particular the character of American soldiers, and - even more pointed - situations that place them in context with those of other nations. This trunk includes such stalwarts as the Americans in `Great Escape' and `Kwai,' where they were notably more independent and plucky than others. Antiauthoritarian, interested in `girls.' More universally moral but reluctantly so.

Wherever there is a strain of films defining archetypes, there is a countering strain to subvert or exploit the archetype. So we had TeeVee shows like `You'll never Get Rich' (55) where Sgt Bilko took all the positives and made fun of them. `Hogan's Heros' was an extension, more abstract and internationally conscious.

But there was a subversion of THAT: the revelation that Crane was inordinately, openly promiscuous, even by Hollywood standards. That was news because we already had `moved the fold.' By that I mean that the point before was in defining what Americans were by straight depiction. With these TeeVee shows (enormously popular) there was a shift: the American was defined as this sophisticated being that was sufficiently self-aware and confident that they could make fun of the `old' selves. In other words, the definition moved to the actor, who embodied a charm and clean humor. Crane and others had dual jobs: they were as much personalities as characters, and those personalities helped us in making up who we were.

The subversion, therefore, was this character full of charm looking us straight in the eye and telling us that opportunistic sex was not only good, but a key component of American charm. All of a sudden, the backlog of film double entendres - all those Cary Grant-like seductions - made this make sense. This stuff is what contributed to the crisis of the late sixties, the invention of a media-led counterculture of folding, and the sex-drugs part of the trinity.

All well and fine. Schrader knows the Crane story is not a simple thread of `boy gets success and the excess destroys him.' Those stories are tired , and in this case just wasn't true anyway. Schrader turns this into an examination of examining, a film about filming, a peek at peeking. The devil in this somewhat fictitious version of the story is not someone with sex or drugs, but with video technology. The enticement here is not the sex - Crane was already well into that in the radio days - but the act of filming. The act of charming people into being filmed and sitting around a TeeVee, transfixed in masturbation.

Schrader is always best with these types of complexities. A film about film in film, corrupting everything ON the film and making its point by that same, self-corrupting mechanism. It is where the name comes from. Long time collaborator DaFoe understands this. The obvious strategy was that the Crane character be completely unaware of any of these mechanics, a real gamble. So far, a work of genius. But then he gets behind the camera. His actual execution is so concerned with making things `work' he loses sight of what he is about. What we end up is mechanically competent, but lifeless, the genius is bleached away.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
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Under-interesting account of sensational murder case
Bill Slocum26 May 2003
Bob Crane's better known for how he died than what made him famous. "Auto-Focus" tries to fit both sides of his life into one movie, and the result is one unwieldy concoction, not a mess exactly, but never a very interesting movie.

Greg Kinnear projects some of Crane's Middle America appeal, and remains authentic even as he falls into the depths of Crane's post "Hogan's Heroes" career, a nightmare world of faceless orgies and dinner theater in which Crane nevertheless seemed able to function with a strange degree of disembodied aplomb. Willem Dafoe is tailor-made for the creepy companion role of John Carpenter, a professional hanger-on who escorts Crane to swinging affairs to get a piece of the action on the side, and maybe a little piece of Crane, too. Will Crane do what it takes to get his career on track, namely by dropping Carpenter and his seedy sexcapades? And will Carpenter handle any such change with grace, or homicidal rage?

You know how it ends. And this movie takes too long to get there. One earlier poster here had it exactly right: "The E! True Hollywood Story Without The Story." The Crane murder case has been a subject of morbid fascination for me, and it seems many others, too, but its not exactly a Shakepearean tragedy. As a character study, it has its moments, but there's a lot of unnecessary connecting the dots: Here's where Crane meets Carpenter. Here's his problems with co-star Richard Dawson (who's laughably miscast, by the way.) Here's his second marriage. Here's Crane's failed attempt at a movie career, "Superdad." These aren't exactly cultural milestones, so the placid, accountant-like way the film moves through these moments calls attention to its cookie-cutter, by-the-book mentality. Director Paul Schrader was drawn to the sex and the debauchery, but he doesn't care that much about the characters, and it shows. You need empathy to make a film like this work.

Here's what I would have liked. A film that focused on the last few years or even months of Crane's life, well after the end of Hogan, with him struggling with his excesses and his regrets. A tone like "Hard Eight," seedy dives and loose women playing on his weaknesses and his flabby ego. (The book this is based on, Robert Graysmith's "The Murder Of Bob Crane," draws a lot on his last days, and the Carpenter angle is just one of several gripping areas explored.) Make the murder and its surrounding circumstances more central to the story. We still know how it ends, but it could have been more involving getting there.

Ultimately, I don't know if the film would have been good however it was done. Pointless murders don't make for great stories by themselves. This needed something more that just wasn't there.
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The history of the VCR. Oh, yeah, and Bob Crane too.
George Parker19 March 2003
"Auto Focus" is a biopic/drama which explores the career and life of Bob Crane, sexaholic and star of the late 60's sitcom "Hogan's Heros". A highly sanitized drama with a la-de-da milieu and the look and feel of a sitcom, "Auto Focus" deals only superficially with the neurotic protag's preoccupation with sex while failing to dig deep into his aberrant psychodynamics and the seedy subculture he inhabited by night. A solid production in all respects, "Auto Focus" will most likely be of interest to those who remember Crane while younger viewers may find the film somewhat unsatisfying. (B-)
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This story wasn't worth making into a movie
Maciste_Brother18 November 2003
I have to say up front that I don't like biographies or movies based on real events or people. They rarely come close to the real thing and the only way a film can approach its subject is on a VERY superficial level. And AUTO FOCUS continues with this approach. With the the two main characters having been dead well before the movie was made, well, as the saying goes "dead men don't tell tales," this movie has nothing new to add or say about Bob Crane and John Carpenter and their friendship/relationship. The ending, which we all know, is rather ridiculous because the film just shows an anonymous man (or person) walking in Crane's apartment and killing him with a tripod. We have no idea who killed Bob Crane. In fact, we have no idea about Bob Crane over anything. Everything in the movie is just surface. It's just recreating his life as seen through newspaper headlines and anecdotal stories. The filmmaker even decided to have a couple of pointless dream sequences. Yeeesh. But the main problem with this film is the story itself.

Personally, I don't think it was worth making into a movie. Radio guy gets acting job in a stupid sitcom. Radio Guy turned actor sleeps around with a lot of women and goes to strip clubs. He befriends a creepy guy who likes to record his sexual conquest on video. Both guys eventually lose their jobs and their careers tank. They have sex all the time with various bimbos. There's a disagreement between Actor and the Creep and the actor ens up dead. End of story. Wow. Compelling...not.

There's a scene in the movie where we see Bob Crane's second wife pouring alcohol in a glass with orange juice before she start throwing things at him in anger. Whenever you see a scene like this, it's a dead giveaway that the movie is terrible and not worth the time and money to see it. Cliche-O-Rama!
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Setting the record straight
tarantinoboy9 November 2002
This is NOT a good movie. I don't know what you people are being fooled by. Is it all the breasts? Is it because it's dark subject matter that Paul Schrader is directing? I really don't get it, 'cause this is a bad movie. It's a boring story, that is not worth telling. It is not well acted, written, or directed. So, please, everyone remove your head from your posterior and realize that this is not a great, or even good film. It's mock-intellectual. That is all.
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"All I think about all day long is sex. Watching sex, having sex, and filming sex..."
Derek23718 August 2004
I'll admit, I only knew a few vague details about Bob Crane before watching Paul Schrader's Auto Focus. But whether you know about him or not, this is a great movie about a man seduced by fame and overcome by his weaknesses and addictions, who finally spirals downward into a living hell. The transition from a happily married man on his way up to stardom to a desperate man with his life in ruins is almost seamless. Even the camera work changes: at first it runs completely smoothly but by the end it seems to just drift drunkenly to targets; out of frame and focus.

Bob Crane is portrayed as a real nice guy. Doesn't drink, doesn't smoke. His only major flaw (and it is major) is that he is a sex addict. "One out of three's not bad," as he so innocently puts it. It all isn't really about sex, though. Watch it and you'll see very little sex actually takes place on screen. It is all mostly about the lifestyle, which is a key importance in any film about addiction, whether the addiction is alcohol, cocaine, or in this case, sex. Bob Crane and his buddy John Carpenter regularly go cruising for women to have sex with and as Crane's celebrity decreases, so does the quality and quantity of women. This leaves him more and more desperate. He becomes obsessed with editing his sex videos and starts to lose his grip with reality. He appears on a cooking show and makes obscene comments to a woman in the audience. He doesn't really care, because he knows they'll just edit it all out.

This is without a doubt Greg Kinnear's best performance to date, and Willem Dafoe gives his creepiest performance...well, of that particular year. Auto Focus is more than just your typical Hollywood scandal film, it rises to degrees so much higher and darker than that. This is a film that sticks with you and really makes you think.

My rating: 10/10
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gee... now I know that sex-addiction is bad.
T Y16 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I've noted my problems with Paul Schrader's films before (too many beautiful compositions, too much arranging the posture of depth without being deep) but this is his biggest embarrassment to date. No one should have given it any rating but "total bomb." I can only hazard a guess that Schrader's Calvinist upbringing, left him with a lifelong obsession with morality and the punishment of sexual transgressions (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Comfort of Strangers, Mishima, Hardcore, this). All of his movies could be called The Scarlet Letter: Part 11, 12, 13, etc. He wants to show us people boning on film, but figures he can't without the free pass of a simpleton moral message. So this timorous man continually seeks out stories about salacious or tawdry lives. He does it to underscore morality, but after so many of these teasing films, one also gets a clear picture that Schrader is endlessly horny & envious of his subjects. So what's worse; a character-ruining obsession with porn, or a similarly obsessed director leering at these people?

This movie is the Hollywood version of an after-school special. It's "Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Drug Abuser" with sexual addiction swapped in as the issue. It's construction is absolutely shallow. Schrader never gets around to anything BUT the moral message. There is nothing else to it. The point is so utterly obvious the movie is craving other activities to enrich it.

Kinnear is miscast as are others (Has the actor playing Richard Dawson viewed even a frame of him in action? Bea Arthur is more like Dawson) and one gets the sense that Schrader wants to revisit the era, mood and accolades of Boogie Nights, but he can't orchestrate anything as complex.

If I had one wish for Paul Schrader it would be that he'd have mind-blowing, bone-shaking sex without a shred of guilt about a hundred times in the next few months. Maybe then he'd stop pounding viewers over the head about temperance and restraint. He's not developing an oeuvre, he's just beating a dead horse.

There probably was an interesting, thoughtful movie to make about Bob Crane. This ain't it. This is the dumbest, most artless film I've seen in about a year. A special pan goes to the graphic designer who came up with the humorous retro 50's DVD menus. I can't think of less fitting or appropriate visuals for this movie. I'm finished now ...but I think we all learned a valuable lesson. (< sarcasm)
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Boring study of a man obsessed with sex.
stanb-22 November 2002
I found the first hour of this movie to be very uninteresting and boring. It was so boring that 3 members of our group walked out. It would have been 4 but my wife was asleep. It got a little better later on, but not much. Total waste of time to see this. It said nothing and left me with the question "So What, Who cares." I couldn't believe that Ebert gave it 4 stars. He must be losing it. I would give it 1 star as the acting was indeed very good.
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Made for TV
guyb24 March 2003
I grew up with Bob Crane and Hogan. I'm a big fan of Defoe and Kinnear. So, naturally, I expected to like this movie. What a shock to see something so boring and shallow from such a famous writer/director. It was essentially a "made for TV movie." No depth, edginess or sordid roughness that you would expect from the world they had drifted to.
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This film clearly shows Crane's downward spiral into Carpenter's hell
Shooba0220 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Review of Auto Focus March 17, 2004

This review of the 2002 film Auto Focus, starring Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe contains a spoiler in which key plot points will be mentioned. Therefore, if you want to stay in suspense, read no further!

Greg Kinnear stars as Bob Crane, the star of the popular 70's sitcom, Hogan's Heroes. Williem Dafoe stars as John Carpenter, a salacious character who provides the Hollywood jet -setters with cutting edge technology such as home video devices and hi-fi car stereo systems. The film, directed by Paul Schrader, focuses on Crane's successes and failures - both with his career and his wives, as well as his abnormal sexual addiction; we witness Crane's transformation and self destruction once he gets involved with Carpenter. Essentially, Auto Focus shows how a good man can be lured into degeneracy because of his insecurities.

We first see Bob as a nice `likable' family man working in radio - a non-drinker. A co-dependent relationship quickly develops between Crane and Carpenter after they first meet on the set of Hogan's Heroes. Carpenter is a smooth talking snake who entices Crane with his techno expertise all the while he preying on Crane's popularity and `likeability' - using Bob in order to seduce women while the video is rolling. This activity becomes their modus operandi.

Carpenter feeds Crane's ego by becoming his loyal side-kick. He turns Crane on to the `other side' by inviting him to strip clubs. Although Crane is in the height of his popularity, he relishes in moonlighting at the clubs playing his drums - encouraged by Carpenter. Carpenter affectionately calls Crane `Big Daddy' and makes reference to their relationship as `Batman & Robin, Lone Ranger & Tonto'. These two men become inseparable and it is somewhat disturbing of how needy and influential they are on each other.

This film clearly shows Crane's downward spiral into Carpenter's hell. Paul Schrader also directed other infamous films that involve complex male sexuality `situations' such as Taxi Driver and American Gigolo. Schrader provides us with some brilliant subliminal techniques in his transformation of Crane by the combination of motifs and colors. For example, in the beginning of the film before Crane meets Carpenter we see many scenes that contain the Madonna with Child both at the Crane's church and inside their home. The colors in these scenes are bright and vibrant - primarily whites, aquas, and greens. This motif changes once the men meet, from spiritual and clean to evil and ominous; Carpenter is always dressed in red or black or both - signifying he is a dangerous villain (devil) of sorts. The bright happy colors have been replaced by dark scenes and reds such as the strip clubs - the lights, candles, curtains, and carpet. Even Carpenter's home has red carpet and lights; his car, a shiny red javelin, has two chrome exhaust pipes sticking out the back representing horns!

By the end of the movie, Crane has transformed from a likeable nice guy to a creepy, washed -up alcoholic without morals, family or friends. Once Crane realizes he must sever his only remaining relationship - with Carpenter - in order to salvage his career and save himself, it is too late.
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How Chickie-Birdies Got their Kit Off
Chris_Docker9 March 2003
Sleazing its way through the invention of video cameras and the age of hippie ‘free love', Auto Focus tells the tragic tale of Bob Crane, star of the 60's TV hit series Hogan's Heroes. From an initial perfect-family-man image, his success takes him the way of addiction to pleasures of the unlimited-and-available-women kind, and he not only seeks vainly to justify his addiction but keeps making the same mistakes. Features rather too much nakedness to be a triumph for the holier-than-thou brigade, but remains a well-told and historically captivating tale.
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Well-done but depressing
preppy-35 February 2003
Greg Kinnear plays Bob Crane, the star of the TV series "Hogan's Heroes". It follows his life from 1964 (when "Hogan's" started) to his murder in 1978. It chronicles his friendship with sleazy John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) and his obsession with photographing nude women and having sex.

The story starts off all sunny and bright with him being a very nice guy--he has a wife, kids and a house in the suburbs. Then he gets the TV series, meets Carpenter and slowly gets obsessed with sex and photography. Here's where the film made a real error for me--it's never explained where this sudden craving came from. It's suggested that Carpenter had something to do with it, but that's about it. It's not Kinnear's fault--his performance is great (even if he doesn't look a thing like Crane)--it's the script's fault. And the movie gets more and more depressing as Crane's marriages fall apart, his career crumbles and he can't stop himself. Also the movie changes--the film stock changes to video, the color fades, the camerawork gets jumpy...all adding to the downbeat feel. Basically, this is a very bleak look at the life of a man who let his obsession kill him. Also, if you're looking for any insights on to who killed Bob Crane forget it. The murder is still unsolved and the movie just shows a shadowy figure committing it.

The acting is good--Kinnear is just great--it's really good to see him stop doing those lame romantic comedies and taking a chance. Dafoe is, as usual, excellent. Also Rita Wilson, Maria Bello and Rob Liebman are very good.

This was a huge box office disaster when it came out (it's easy to see why) but it's not a bad movie. Worth a look...but it's grim.
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Portrait of a sleazebag
Chris Knipp10 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers

`Auto Focus' is Paul Schrader's version of the rise and fall of Bob Crane, the star of the WW II prisoner of war comedy `Hogan's Heroes.' `Hogan' ran successfully from 1964 to 1971, with endless reruns since, and as it ran and went into reruns Crane slid progressively downhill in the relentless pursuit of a sex addiction that wrecked his career and prematurely ended his life. Greg Kinnear gamely attacks the lead role in Paul Schrader's Hollywood biopic of this horrendously unfortunate man.

Crane as we see him here is constantly urged on by his sidekick, John Carpenter, a role performed with his usual satanic relish by Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately Dafoe looks a little old to be playing a sex maniac.

Carpenter is a pioneering agent for video equipment who's fired when color video arrives and his boss discovers he's color blind. From then on the rather humiliating role of Dafoe's character becomes nothing but to set up orgies in which he and Crane star -- and to shoot pornographic videos of the proceedings to be viewed later.

It's something new to see Kinnear playing such a distasteful role, if all too familiar to see Dafoe in one. The relationship is a mutually exploitive marriage of addict and enabler. Crane's fame and his charm (considerable in Kinnear's performance) make it all possible, allowing him to smooth the path to his own downfall. As represented by Mr. Schrader and his writers, Robert Graysmith and Michael Gerbosi, Crane has little behind his ingratiating manner but a mindless lust for sex. His self-doubt consists of nothing more than an occasional fear of being caught.

Bob is a Catholic and a family man but he easily slides into the relentless and daily pursuit of his slimy "hobby," first playing drums in strip bars while still working in `Hogan's Heroes' and partying with the staff afterward, later engaging in the endless orgies on tour which Dafoe's character arranges. Crane's sex obsession spills over into Polaroids and videos of every orgy and to watching them and masturbating with his sidekick while trying to recall the scene. `Was that Cleveland?' `No, it was Scottsdale.' Such dialogue might have been funny, but it's only pathetic here.

Crane's first marriage ends - and we see this grimly depicted. The second marriage, with the female lead on `Hogan,' takes longer to self-destruct because this time the wife begins knowing about all the girls and claiming to accept them. Eventually as depicted here she becomes disaffected and alcoholic.

Never has Paul Schrader been in a more relentless mood. The only queasy element of interest in this slow descent is the growing irony of Crane's persistent charm. `I'm normal,' he repeatedly says, whenever it's pointed out, also repeatedly, how creepy he's become. It's obvious (Schrader doesn't overstress this, but neither does he develop it in any depth) that Dafoe's character is sexually attracted to Crane and emotionally dependent on him and that this is one sick, devouring relationship.

Word gets around about Bob's grungy lifestyle and his reputation sinks to zero in Hollywood. He and his agent agree he has to start over, so he tells Carpenter their relationship has to end, along with the dinner theater tours that have facilitated the orgies.

Carpenter responds by bashing Bob's head in. (In real life he was acquitted of murder charges, but the movie doesn't buy that.) This finale happens in Scottsdale, Arizona. End of story. It's curiously like the death of Joe Orton, and makes the two men's relationship seem emotionally, if not physically, homosexual.

Mostly Kinnear's able performance - which might well have been troubling and moving in a subtler, more rounded movie - consists of showing Crane pretending to be cheerful and amiable when we know his life is going down the tubes. Kinnear's Crane tirelessly puts on the standard good guy celebrity front. He's the kind of star who never refuses an autograph, never loses his chipper urge to charm. It's only in the last quarter of the movie that Kinnear is called upon to show Crane's physical and mental decline visibly happening on screen. During this period Carpenter (Dafoe) becomes increasingly frantic, knowing he's about to be deprived of his reason for being. Instead of a subtle and haunting alteration of relationship, like that of James Fox and Dick Bogarde in Losey and Pinter's `The Servant,' the dialogue in `Auto Focus' just repeats the same formulas.

Schrader doesn't trust Kinnear or Dafoe to convey the progression through acting. Instead, he makes the movie become crudely expressionistic, switching to jerky hand-held cameras and changing the movie's whole style in a grotesquely intrusive way. Angelo Badalamenti's music, which had seemed merely odd and out of sync at times, now becomes heavy-handedly ominous. Badalamenti's compositions seem campy and stylized when they accompany David Lynch's bizarre sequences, but here they're just gratingly portentous. We realize this grim morality play has nowhere to go. Bob was doomed from the start.

Early on, when Bob has just begun playing drums in strip bars, he schedules a meeting with his priest in a coffee shop and tells the good father what he's been doing. `Would you be more comfortable talking about this in the confessional?' the priest asks. `No,' Bob answers. Presumably Schrader would like to take us to the confessional, but he can't. He sees no evidence of contrition in Crane's behavior -- and his tale is empty in consequence. Its depiction of a lost soul is without the appeal of a truly Faustian bargain. Bob's just an addict who never recovers, and his `bottom,' in 12-step terms, is getting his head bashed in, which doesn't allow for Recovery. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared this movie `shallow' and `morally offensive.' Reports indicate that the film contains some important distortions of the truth about Bob Crane and of his relationship with John Carpenter.

If Schrader is a moralist, he's a failure, and as an artist and a historian he has failed as well.
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For voyeurs only.
tordiway10 November 2002
The first challenge facing any film of this type is that the audience already knows how the story is going to end before they enter the theater. It starts high, it ends low; we know that already. And let's face it, we are interested in the film because we are morbidly fascinated with the low part. So the filmmaker's task is not to deliver the usual story arch, but instead to both show the character's descent AND to give us new insight into the character, causing us to feel for him and understand his story in a way we did not know before seeing the film. Otherwise it is a documentary or a Biography on the History Channel. On this our group agreed: we left the theater feeling like little more than passive observers into Bob Crane's life. Instead of character development we are treated to a series of vignettes and asked to connect the dots ourselves. As a result, we never cared that much for him (he was shallow, smarmy) and we were not given enough of the people in his life to care for them, so we were never torn apart when he began his descent into hell. The filmmaker's alternate approach is to force us, the audience, to become voyeurs too. Our group sat through the movie both repulsed and attracted to what we saw, but, with no emotional insight gained, we were no better for the experience. Ask yourself this; if the film had been about the life and death of sex addict John Doe would it have worked? No - it would have been booed off the screen. Lacking any real depth, the film requires the audience's obsession with celebrity in order for it to succeed. Movies about descent can be fascinating; just look at "Lost Weekend" or "Double Indemnity" for two classics that come to mind. But "Autofocus" ain't in that league. I don't know about you but I left the theater feeling like I needed to take a shower.
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