Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Auto Focus (2002)
Bob: I don't want to jinx it, but I think it's what I've been working toward my whole career.
Anne: Really? You've been working toward a Holocaust comedy?- Greg Kinnear, Rita Wilson
Stars: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe
Other Stars: Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Liebman, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean
Director: Paul Schrader
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, nudity, language, some drug use and violence
Run Time: 01h:45m:38s
Release Date: 2003-03-18
DVD ReviewIf you were born after, say, 1980, Hogan's Heroes probably wasn't an integral part of your childhood; but for those of us who were glued to the TV screen as tots in the decades before cable, the image of Bob Crane as Hogan, the wisecracking P.O.W. in a Nazi prison camp, is indelible. And the revelations about his sordid life, which came to light after his brutal murder, could only make you feel a little queasy about C-list celebrities in general—imagine if Urkel was bludgeoned to death, and then his treasure trove of homemade porn was discovered, and you may have a sense of the cultural ickiness of the Crane case.
Greg Kinnear plays Bob Crane, who, when we meet him in 1964, is a prominent L.A. radio host looking to step up in class—he wants to be the next Jack Lemmon. His faithful agent (the excellent Ron Liebman) has a script for him, a pilot from Bing Crosby Productions, in which Crane is offered the role of that lovable rapscallion, Hogan. Crane seems like a pretty straight arrow—devout Catholic, devoted husband to Anne (Rita Wilson), father of three. But just what is that collection of dirty magazines in the garage? More than just the photography studies that Bob says they are, that's what.
Crane's wandering eye and his newfound celebrity make for a combustible combination—there is no shortage of women willing to sleep with television's Colonel Hogan, and Bob starts down the primrose path. Leading the way for him is John Carpenter, played by Willem Dafoe—Carpy works for Sony, and is in on the ground floor of the home-video revolution, providing machines that seem prehistoric by our standards, but dazzled Hollywood back in the day—"the Polaroid of home movies."
Bob's true dream is to be a drummer, and since Dizzy Gillespie isn't calling, he's happy to sit in with the house bands at the strip clubs he frequents with Carpy. But he remains sufficiently straight-laced—early on, anyway—to seek counsel from his parish priest. The word of God cannot compete with the occasions of sin into which Bob is placed, however, and as the story goes on, the aphrodisiac of celebrity is too much for women to resist.
One of the startling things about the movie is Crane's complete lack of self-knowledge—he's given occasional voice-overs, and it's clear that he says one thing, and does another. His voracious sexual appetite is twinned with his geeky guy love of technology, and soon he and Carpy are videotaping themselves having sex with random women, then watching it all over again the next day. In some respect the sex is just the useful pretext, the thing they have to do to get all that footage—like his television show, Bob's sexual and emotional life are forever in reruns.
The relationship between Crane and Carpenter is the spine of the piece, and there's more love and intimacy between these two than in either of Crane's marriages, or with any of the many women they use and discard. The fear may have been that the acting styles of the two leads would be too disjointed—Talk Soup meets The Last Temptation of Christ—but Kinnear and Dafoe are terrific. As Crane, Kinnear has the smirky, smarmy thing down perfectly, and he's spot on as a lower-tier celebrity cashing in every chip he can. (After Hogan's gets canceled, in one scene, Bob goes to a bar, has the bartender flip over to the local affiliate rerunning his show, and primps and preens before the television, waiting for tonight's prospective conquest to notice that it's him up there on the monitor. Hey, guys use what they got.) And Dafoe is like a jilted lover—there are intimations that he's got sexual feelings for Crane, and the movie all but comes right out and says that Carpy was Crane's killer. (In a smashing bit of irony, Crane was bludgeoned to death with a camera tripod. Carpenter was charged with the murder, and acquitted at trial.)
This can be an uncomfortable film to watch, for a number of reasons—principally because it shows a man going down a black hole, undone by his own nature, and also because it's full of unpleasant, sexually explicit scenes of two guys making their own porn. It's no great shock that this wasn't a huge commercial success—Hey, honey, let's go see the movie about the sex-addicted '60s sitcom actor who got killed in a Scottsdale condo!—but its roughness is palatable because there's a lot of truth here. Crane seems emblematic of a certain sort of American man, raised in the Eisenhower years and taught to see women as chattel; Bob's unique solution was, as social mores changed in the 1960s, to parlay his minor fame into lots and lots of cheap sex. It's hard to know what must have been more humiliating for him—these endless anonymous encounters, or being reduced to playing bad dinner theater in Wichita. But he remained so clueless that the sorry spectacle of his life was likely lost on him, as he was forever out just looking to score.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The film was made on a relatively modest budget, but the production team knew how to get the most out of their resources, and the carefully planned visual scheme aids the story tremendously. Things start out in bright, happy colors, all blues and reds and yellows, and as Crane's life goes on a downward spiral, everything turns murky—colors go brown, the camera gets shaky, the backgrounds of scenes get blown out. It's a great bit of visual storytelling, and it's well reproduced on this DVD, with little or no interference, and solid colors and blacks.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The dialogue track is pretty clean; the mix favors all kinds of funky sound effects in the surround speakers, which you'll miss out on if you don't have all that spaghetti running out of your stereo receiver, but you'll certainly still be in on all the action. I don't know if Hogan's Heroes got much play in France, and can only wonder how the whole thing plays out in another culture, with different sexual mores.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Blind Spot: Hitler's Private Secretary, Love Liza, The Man From Elysian Fields, Pollock, Spider, Talk to Her
5 Deleted Scenes
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Paul Schrader (1st commentary track); Michael Gerbosi, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (2nd commentary track); Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe (3rd commentary track)
Extras Review: The voluminous extras, especially the commentary tracks, help to make the persuasive case for this difficult but oddly hypnotic film. Director Paul Schrader is on the first track, and he talks about turning Michael Gerbosi's original script into a Paul Schrader movie—that is, it wasn't Hollywood that turned Crane into a monster, but Bad Bob was lurking inside all the time. He talks about Kinnear as just the right choice, despite a consistent lightness in his earlier work—Schrader says of his leading man, "I really felt like I could take him out to the deep end of the pool." He also tells us that, courtesy of Crane's son, Kinnear is wearing the original Hogan's Heroes leather jacket, and that Schrader worked with the weird but strangely appropriate metaphor of Crane and Carpenter as the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
Next up are the original screenwriter, Michael Gerbosi, and two of the producers of the film, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski—the last two are probably better known as screenwriters themselves, on biopics including Ed Wood, The People versus Larry Flynt, and Man in the Moon. Gerbosi was working as a delivery guy for Jerry's Deli and struck up a conversation with a customer, who was not only his neighbor, but also a producer—he wanted to make a movie based on The Murder of Bob Crane, an out-of-print book by Robert Graysmith. The trio on the track are a fun, strange bunch of guys, and are having a hell of a good time telling stories and goofing around—they see this movie as a weird companion piece to their Larry Flynt picture (the corrosive aspects of pornography on display here), and offer the glorious nugget that Crane told his son that he thought his own best acting work was when he had to cry on cue as a guest on Love Boat. They're frank—"We get very intrigued by bad ideas"—and the only quibble with this track is that, for time constraints made unclear to the listener, they had to wrap it up after less than an hour.
Kinnear and Dafoe provide the third track, and what's especially nice is that the two stars seem genuinely fond of one another. Kinnear says that pre-Hogan's, Crane on KNX was "the Johnny Carson of radio," the necessary stop for anybody promoting anything; and the two of them are smart talking about some of the issues of tone in the piece. How broadly comic could they go in an explicit movie about sexual addiction? They don't always have something to say, however, and there are a couple of patches of dead air on this track.
The five deleted scenes are very brief, and include the wisely jettisoned original opening, which showed Crane's bloodied corpse; Schrader provides a commentary track for these scenes, as well. A brief making-of featurette (06m:52s) doesn't offer much, but features on-set interviews with Schrader, Kinnear, Dafoe, Maria Bello (who plays Crane’s Hogan’s co-star and second wife), Wilson, and Bob Crane Jr., the theme being the "corrosiveness of celebrity."
Murder in Scottsdale (49m:26s) intercuts some footage from the film with particularly graphic photographs, which seem to be police snapshots of Crane's dead body—the first half is devoted to the circumstances of Crane's murder, and the second to the trial, ten years later, of John Carpenter. The sloppy police work on this case makes the L.A.P.D.'s handling of evidence in the O.J. Simpson matter seem like a paragon of law enforcement; those interviewed include Graysmith, the cops who investigated the case, Carpenter's attorney, the prosecutors, the jury foreman from the trial, and three of Crane's kids. (The jurors were allegedly "bored if not embarrassed for the state of Arizona" by the sorry case the prosecution put on at trial.) In a bizarre bit of Hollywood incestuousness, one of Carpenter's principal defenders was Mark Dawson, son of Richard, Crane's Hogan's co-star. (Survey says: guilty!) This is also the only place on the disc to see images of John Carpenter, who died of a heart attack four years after his acquittal.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThis is much more than a case study of a minor celebrity who met with an untimely end; amazingly enough, Paul Schrader has turned Bob Crane's life into a cautionary tale, about the dangers of celebrity and of sex, and especially of them intertwining. Much of this can be rough viewing, but if you don't find it completely unpalatable, there's much here to admire; and the three (well, two and a half) commentary tracks are quite illuminating.
Jon Danziger 2003-04-22