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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.25%
Worth A Look: 37.68%
Pretty Bad: 13.04%
Total Crap: 1.45%

8 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Auto Focus
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by Doug Bentin

"Celebrity du jour"
4 stars

Over lunch last week Mad Meg, the Pirate’s Daughter, with just a touch of sarcasm, referred to me as a “local celebrity,” which surprised me as I neither predict the weather nor sell furniture on TV, but I remembered the comment as I thought about “Auto Focus,” Paul Schrader’s film about the end game in the life of Bob Crane.

Crane was a local celeb in El Lay, host of a popular radio program. He’d had a three-year run as the comic next door neighbor on “The Donna Reed Show” on TV, but kept the radio gig during his time on the tube. He’d landed several TV guest shots on programs running the gamut from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone” to “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” although none of his over five dozen TV appearances are mentioned in the film.

Then, in 1965, he got the lead in a new TV sitcom, “Hogan’s Heroes,” and over the next six years his affable, smiling face became as recognizable as any in the nation.

Crane knew that his greatest talent was likeability. He was open and outgoing, and he seemed to be like the guy he played on “Donna Reed”—the amusing fella next door who wanders into your kitchen and helps himself to whatever’s in the fridge.

But one day, on the Hogan set, he met John Carpenter (note: this is not the man who directed “Halloween”), a backstage hanger-on who was a friend of Hogan co-star Richard Dawson. Survey said that Carpy, as Crane called him, would soon decide to swim with the bigger fish.

He led Crane into the world of strip clubs, where the TV star would sit in on drums, beating time for the dancers. The girls began to stand in line, and Crane’s 15-year good Catholic marriage set sail on a sea of porn magazines and late nights out.

He fell into the trap so many sad, low-grade actors get snared in: he didn’t seem to realize that the ladies wanted to score with Col. Hogan, not with Bob Crane. During the course of the film, not one of these gals calls him “Bob.” He is always Col. Hogan. Rita Hayworth expressed the sadness of this condition best when she observed “Men want to go to bed with Rita Hayworth, but they always wake up with me.”

Director Paul Schrader has been interested in male losers since his earliest days as a scripter for Martin Scorsese. Schrader wrote “Taxi Driver” and wrote and directed “American Gigolo.” In this film, Crane and Carpy are involved in one sexual encounter after another, sometimes alone. Carpenter was an electronics guy who had access to all the early video taping equipment, and he and Crane used this stuff to record their orgies.

In one scene, as they play back an episode of Crane getting waxed by a nameless woman, both men start to get that old feeling south of the belt buckle and begin to masturbate to the image on the TV screen. Never has sex in a movie been colder and less enjoyable. This is something they do out of habit, not for pleasure. They’re like drunks who don’t get any enjoyment out of drinking, but do it because they have to.

Crane, reduced to traveling around the country with a dismal dinner theater sex farce, was murdered in his hotel room in Scottsdale, AZ in 1978, hoping to clean up his act and regain that old reputation for being a nice guy. He was a mediocre talent, like so many fly-by-night one-hit-series types on television. Where are they now? Who cares?

Greg Kinnear, as Crane, is unexpectedly brilliant, not just in aping Crane’s mannerisms and vocal tricks, but in the way he can make us understand his character’s deal with the devil without feeling sympathy for him. Crane didn’t have to stick with the creepy Carpenter, but he liked living under the rock and there aren’t that many companions to choose from down there.

As Carpenter, Willem Dafoe is every sycophant who ever ingratiated himself into the life of a nine-day wonder. By turns oily and dry, manipulating and manipulated, Carpy is a loathsome bottom feeder. Only an actor of great talent and self-confidence can tell us about a creature like this and not make us want to shoot the messenger.

While part of the audience must envy the perks that go along with show biz success, another part of us feels a blend of pity and repulsion for the temporarily big fish in the little pond that is a TV sitcom, especially when that fish doesn’t realize that the apparent adulation from fans is always directed at something that doesn’t really exist. They want to get close to what is essentially a goulash of actor, character, and made-up place and situation. It’s a fandom that reduces the object of its adoration rather than elevates it. Local and small time celebrities take note.

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originally posted: 01/25/07 05:01:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/18/14 Ofmnzhuz This is perhaps the best selling female artist from Barbados to receive Jesus. White and se 2 stars
2/13/14 WDXsCnPgcSFqvb sverige.txt;1 3 stars
9/04/09 RLan Good performance by Kinnear but the movie could have been better. 3 stars
10/29/04 ODH This flicks was funny and at the same time well acted. Bob Crane was one sick puppy!!! 4 stars
5/29/04 Suzette Kinnear was fantasitc!! 5 stars
2/24/04 tatum Supporting cast disappears, but Kinnear and Dafoe are excellent 4 stars
1/25/04 Patricia Rohr Great Performances. A film about a guy who used his position to get laid. 4 stars
1/11/04 Atanu Great review by chris parry 4 stars
1/09/04 Jack Sommersby Watchable, but there's no essential view of the material. 2 stars
10/18/03 Jinnvisible I asked for my money back at the video rental store,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and they gave it back!!!! 1 stars
9/13/03 Ant A genuinely interesting study of a man's rise a fall. Kinnear is brilliant. 4 stars
6/25/03 quasi Don't bother unless you are seriously bored. 3 stars
4/29/03 Andrew Carden Kinnear Is Amazing, Dafoe Provides Great Support. Delightful. 5 stars
4/03/03 The Good Crane Son Yeah, not too INTERESTING per se, but perfect acting and lots of celeb taboo is always fun 5 stars
3/17/03 Paul Coleman Yes....John Carpenter murdered Bob Crane. Great performances. 4 stars
11/16/02 Robert Scott Crane Boring. Innacurate. Waste of Time. 2 stars
11/10/02 Mipchunk Interesting movie but it feels just like a biography, nothing really to learn from it. 3 stars
11/09/02 spaceworm Ick! 4 stars
11/08/02 Suzz good performances; great study of the slippery slope to depravity 5 stars
11/03/02 rue the whirl fascinating story. 4 stars
10/25/02 Gobblygook I enjoyed this movie. Performances were great. Much funnier than intense though. 5 stars
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  18-Oct-2002 (R)



Directed by
  Paul Schrader

Written by
  Paul Schrader

  Greg Kinnear
  Willem Dafoe
  Maria Bello
  Kurt Fuller
  Rita Wilson
  Lyle Kanouse

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