7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
, May 21, 2007
This review is from: Auto Focus (Widescreen Special Edition) (DVD)
When I took a trip to see my relatives recently, I noticed with some interest my grandfather's fascination with old television programs. He doesn't get around as much as he once did, so he spends a lot of time parked in front of the television set watching shows on DVD. He has quite a collection. During the time I was there, he played "Hogan's Heroes" on a perpetual loop. I haven't seen the series in years, and most of the shows hold up pretty well. Colonel Klink's endless confusion still garners a few guffaws, Sergeant Schultz still knows nothing, and the prisoners led by the indomitable Colonel Hogan as played by Bob Crane still make the Germans look like buffoons. Of course, anyone with knowledge about Bob Crane's extracurricular activities can't really watch the show without looking for clues to the man's real nature. I'm not sure whether my grandfather knew what Bob Crane did when he wasn't filming episodes of "Hogan's Heroes". And you know what? I couldn't bring myself to tell him that the show he loves so much starred a man with a serious sexual addiction. I'm definitely NOT going to send him a copy of "Auto Focus".
This movie, helmed by veteran Hollywood director Paul Schrader, examines the schizophrenic life of Bob Crane without flinching away from all the unpleasantness. We see little to worry about in the first part of the film. We learn that Crane (Greg Kinnear) has a lot going for him. He owns a wonderful home, complete with swimming pool, and has a beautiful wife named Anne (Rita Wilson). Moreover, he's got a lot of children that seem to make him happy. Our hero also has a great job as a popular disc jockey at a Los Angeles radio station. His work brings in a lot of stars who like the publicity Crane gives them. They also like Crane as a person. What's not to like? Our man comes across as one of the most affable people you would ever want to meet. He's charming to a fault, a charm that eventually helps him attain the lead role in a new television series about Allied prisoners in a German POW camp. Thus was born "Hogan's Heroes," a show that went on to make Bob Crane a star and a household name. We see his ascendancy to fame and fortune in great detail here.
Alas, behind the good looks and the outgoing personality, Bob Crane harbored terrible secrets. We see hints of his addiction in the first part of the film, when his gigs as a drummer in various Los Angeles nightclubs give him access to numerous beautiful women. Still, he doesn't seem out of the ordinary--a lot of guys would cheat on their wives a couple of times given the opportunity. It's when Crane meets John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), an electronics salesman, that his problems seem to escalate. Carpenter, a real sleaze with a craving for the celebrity lifestyle he can never have, homes in on Crane like a missile. He shows Bob a new device called a video camera, and before too long both men start prowling around town looking for women they can film during their various exploits. The two men, helped greatly by Crane's status as a television star, soon amass hundreds of videos. Women like going to bed with a star, and Crane is only too happy to oblige them. But when "Hogan's Heroes" goes off the air, when his personal relationships start to tank, the only thing left in our hero's life is his sick relationship with John Carpenter. Disaster will inevitably follow.
"Auto Focus" is an amazingly grim film for mainstream Hollywood. What we see here isn't pretty, not by a long shot. You only need to witness the scene between Dafoe and Kinnear, the one discussing the placement of a certain finger, to know that you're walking through a film that refuses to play nice. Watching Bob Crane deteriorate into a zombie whose only function in life revolves around sexual conquest is disturbing in the extreme, almost as disturbing as a place like Hollywood making a movie taking someone with a sexual addiction to task. Hollywood? C'mon! Half the people living there are Bob Cranes, and the other half are the ones sleeping with them. Aside from that little problem, the movie works on a number of levels. One, the acting is excellent. Willem Dafoe turns in a great performance as the scuzzy John Carpenter, and Greg Kinnear practically morphs into the deeply troubled Crane. The two had great chemistry together, and their descent into total immorality was never less than totally believable. Two, I got a kick out of the scenes recreating "Hogan's Heroes". Kurt Fuller playing Werner Klemperer playing Colonel Klink did an incredible job! Three, and finally, I thought the film did an amazing job recreating 1960s and 1970s Los Angeles.
Expect a DVD packed with extra features. The "Auto Focus" disc contains three commentary tracks. One has Willem Dafoe and Greg Kinnear, another one features director Schrader, and the third has the writer and producers commenting on the film. You'll get plenty of information about all aspects of the movie if you listen to these three tracks. Good stuff! Other supplements include five deleted scenes with optional commentary from Schrader, a making of featurette, and a documentary about the death of Bob Crane called "Murder in Scottsdale". This last extra is a must see, as it offers up lots of information about the actor's horrific murder in an Arizona hotel and the subsequent investigations into who committed the crime. If you're in the mood for a movie that likes to walk on the dark side, pick up a copy of "Auto Focus". You'll never look at "Hogan's Heroes" the same way again.
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