Sony Pictures Classics
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
The life of Bob Crane, star of TV's late 1960's "Hogan's Heroes," was a sad one indeed. His fame allowed him to indulge sexual fantasies, like videotaping his many partners, and may have lead to his untimely murder. His life story in "Auto Focus" (adapted from Robert Graysmith's book "The Murder of Bob Crane"), starring Greg Kinnear, captures the melancholic nightmare of a boy-man, who claimed that his obsession with sex was normal but found even Hollywood couldn't accept him in that role.
His discovery through his close friend, John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), of videotaping, symbolizes his own discovery of his sexual nature, and represents as well the '70's coming to terms with openness about matters society had kept under wraps since colonial times.
Director Paul Schrader ("Affliction") has found the sleazy lounges and the girls who go with it, enfolded them in a depressing Technicolor mood, and done the impossible: making sexual freedom uncomfortable. Crane drifts from his loving family into a life where "A day without sex is a day not worth living" could be a motto. Along the way lessons are learned about the corruption of fame and religion's inability to deal with the anarchy of contemporary mores.
Even as important may be the exploration of modern masculinity, for instance when Crane shows Carpenter his surgically enhanced penis and both masturbate to the tape of a recent sexual encounter-a cycle of auto eroticism played daily to the tune of a na?ve, lost soul who will never achieve peace with himself or women.
Greg Kinnear brilliantly plays this soul. Film critic Stephanie Zacharek says it best: "His performance has to be one of the most sympathetic acts of decency one actor has ever extended to another. Crane always wanted to be a real, respectable movie actor. Channeled through Kinnear, he finally gets his wish."
The film is as disquieting as Bob Crane-lurid and likable.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time" and vice chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus.