Auto Focus

2002, Movie, R, 104 mins

Review

AUTO FOCUS
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In the early morning hours of June 29, 1978, someone broke into former-Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane's Arizona motel room and beat him to death with a camera stand. Crane was touring the dinner-theater circuit, but his life was dedicated to his twin hobbies: casual sex and amateur porn. Crane's murder was never solved, and it's hard not to read his sad, sordid story as an irresistible fable about public personas and private obsessions. And like SUNSET BLVD., director Paul Schrader's cautionary tale is narrated by a dead man — the affable Crane himself, played to perfection by Greg Kinnear. Los Angeles, 1964. Popular, drum-playing Crane (Kinnear) is a disc jockey at a local radio station who dreams of becoming the next Jack Lemmon. He's appalled when his agent (Ron Leibman) suggests doing a television series — a comedy set in a Nazi POW camp, no less — but even Crane's wife, Anne (Rita Wilson), has to admit the pilot script is actually pretty funny, and he takes the part. Hogan's Heroes turns out to be the number one new show of the 1965 season, and Crane, with his trademark raised eyebrow and crooked grin, becomes an instantly recognizable face. It's on the Hogan's set that Crane meets John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), an audiovisual salesman (and no relation to the horror director) who introduces Crane to the brave new worlds of videotape recording, strip clubs and swinging. Through Carpenter, Crane unleashes both his inner scopophiliac and incorrigible sex addict, and Crane is soon documenting his countless conquests with smutty Polaroids and reels of XXX videotape featuring himself, Carpenter and a bevy of star-struck women. All this liberation comes at a price: The disgusted Anne soon files for divorce and gets custody of their three children, and once Hogan's Heroes is cancelled, Crane finds it increasingly difficult to find work; rumors of his sexual escapades don't help. Crane's relationship with Carpenter, meanwhile, grows increasingly co-dependent — Carpenter needs Crane's image to score chicks; Crane needs Carpenter to score video equipment — and, the film flatly suggests, deadly. Writer Michael Gerbosi based his screenplay on Robert Graysmith's true-crime book The Murder of Bob Crane, but this ultra-stylish film is far more interested in exploring its own central metaphor — the camera — than the forensic minutiae of the mystery. It serves up a warning against the power of images and their ability to both enchant and ultimately enslave: entranced by his own pornographic likeness, Crane becomes a kinky Narcissus whose "real" life fades into sad insignificance. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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