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auto focus, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Auto Focus (2002) 

Hogan’s Heroes was a popular television sitcom of the late 1960’s. Set in a German WWII POW camp, each episode depicted the camp’s prisoners, led by Colonel Hogan, outwitting the incompetent Colonel Klink and bumbling Sergeant Schultz. It turned its star Bob Crane into a household name and, according to this biopic, a sex addict.

When we first meet Bob Crane, he is a church-going, tee-totalling family man. Sure, he keeps a stash of nudie magazines hidden from his wife, but he rather unconvincingly attributes them to his interest in photography. That all changes when he meets Sony representative John Carpenter, who introduces him to the new technology of home video. Soon Crane’s interest in still photography develops into an obsession with the moving image, specifically filming his and Carpenter’s shared sexual exploits. 

Unlike many of writer/director Paul Schrader’s similarly themed films, Auto Focus presents us with a protagonist who, as the character’s narration informs us, is a likeable guy. Endearingly portrayed by Greg Kinnear, the depiction of Crane’s slide from reluctant adulterer to enthusiastic orgy participant may not be subtle, but it is effective. For despite his many failings we, like Crane’s agent Lenny, hope against hope that the actor will break free of Carpenter’s influence.

In this role, Dafoe expertly realises the contradictory nature of his character, switching between controlling provocateur and submissive wing-man. Theirs is a co-dependant relationship that leaves neither unscathed.

Greg Kinnear, Bob Crane, Maria Bello, Patricia Olson, Sigrid Valdis
Robert Clary, Lyle Kanouse, John Banner, Cheryl Lynn Bowers, Cynthia Lynn

Bob Crane’s son, Scotty, came out strongly against this film, publishing the following refutations:-

  • My father did not film women without their consent. It's plain to see from his photos and films that the women are mugging and posing for the camera.

  • The reference to a vasectomy that "leaks" not only implies that I may not be Bob's son, but also suggests that my mother cheated on my father. She did not.

  • Bob Crane did not engage in S&M. Believe me, my dad photographed everything, including traffic jams. He was also murdered. He did not have time to hide anything. If it were true that he engaged in S&M, I would have the pictures. 

  • Bob Crane and John Carpenter did not hang out together until 1975, long after Hogan's Heroes was cancelled.

  • Bob recorded his extramarital activities as early as 1956, long before he became a Hollywood star. He was what many today would deem a sex addict. He was not a Pat Boone type who succumbed to the temptations of Hollywood and Carpenter, as the film depicts.

  • Bob Crane did not have a penile implant, as his autopsy details confirm. He rather famously did not require this enhancement. The procedure wasn't even invented until four years after his murder.

  • My father was not a churchgoing saint with a priest for a buddy. During the last 12 years of his life, he went to church three times: when I was baptized, when his father died, and when he was buried.

Writer/director Paul Schrader countered with the following statement:-

"To understand Scotty's situation, you have to back up about a year. Scotty wrote a script with his partner called Take Off Your Clothes and Smile. That script was not made. He couldn't get it made. They felt that whatever script should be made, they (they being he and his mother Patricia) should control. I was told…at that time, "Stay away from these people. They want to control this movie. If you meet with them, they'll say you took their script." So I didn't get involved with it until I was already shooting… Out of that initial grievance…a lot of other grievances have flowed, including some rather peculiar ones that might be fixations of his, if you know the Web site, about penile size and so forth. I know for a fact from people who have read his script that his script is really quite nasty about his father, too. So, I have to believe that the true issue is this power issue, and not the portrayal issue. You have to bear in mind, Scotty is also the one who's putting the porn on the Web. He feels that this is what his father would have wanted. I'm not sure about that."

Kurt Fuller, Werner Klemperer, Michael E. Rodgers, Richard Dawson, Christopher Neiman

Biopic features one brief scene recreation from Disney's Superdad (1973), and some fine representational scenes of Hogan’s Heroes.

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