Auto Focus (2002)

auto-focusBased on the book “The Murder of Bob Crane” by Robert Graysmith, the film “Autofocus” chronicles the life of Bob Crane who had an early career as a radio DJ with a hit show and then made his foray into television with the hit series “Hogan’s Heroes” one of the most successful television series of all time. It’s by the life on the road where he formed an addiction to sex often luring women to his mansion and engaging in orgies, threesomes, and much more until his death at age 49 where his skull was crushed by a tripod by an unknown assailant.

I’d only seen a few episodes of “Hogan’s Heroes” and heard mostly about it through family who loved the show, but the experience of watching a guy who seemed like such a likable guy’s guy become so engrossed in the eventually lethal sex addiction was not only surprising but shocking. What struck a chord with me about the film is Greg Kinnear who plays Bob Crane. Kinnear masterfully plays Crane with much gusto and such skill that it’s almost scary how they resemble each other. Kinnear proves furthermore that he’s an incredible actor, and an incredibly underrated actor most of all. The story chronicles Crane’s addiction to sex and how he chronicled it all through video (a new device at the time), and pictures. He was so addicted to sex that at one point he puts on a video of him having sex with a woman and he begins masturbating to the sight. The story never explains why Crane had a hobby for taping and archiving his sexual escapades and perhaps it’s better that we never do learn, because it somehow epitomizes his obsession by observing it on tape.

The obsession is a character within the film and manages to become an ominous presence throughout the film as most of the sexual scenes are witnessed through shadows and hazy settings. Willem Dafoe gives a great performance as John Carpenter, the friend and sexual cohort throughout most of their orgies. We’re never told but it’s hinted that Carpenter had an attraction towards Crane as he constantly hung at his coat tails and gazed at him through doe-y eyes. Crane is humbled at first, but the sex obsession not only turns him into a perverted deviant, but a vain self-involved egomaniac. He demeans and insults Carpenter throughout the film’s course and Carpenter never argues back, his only desires are to be noticed, and thanked by Crane for his help.

At first the sex is merely a hobby but grows into addiction which becomes clear during the sequence when Crane begins hallucinating during a taping of “Hogan’s Heroes” and when he masturbates because he failed to bring home any woman to have sex with. It’s sad, because by the finisher you begin to realize that he doesn’t want roles to further his career but to increase his appeal to women for more sex; in the end he’s much nothing but a shell of his former self. The film ends with an ironic twist; Crane died a shallow, meaningless, and lonely death, which was exactly how he lived. When I finished watching this film I was convinced that I liked it, but was disappointed that I didn’t get what I wanted out of it. Along the line after the film ended, I felt that I wasn’t given everything that I wanted to know; it all felt so incomplete in the finisher. The writers and film makers pose a rather shallow and superficial look into the sex addiction Bob Crane suffered; often times they take a more humorous look as well, including a sequence in which Crane begins hallucinating during a taping of “Hogan’s Heroes”.

It was a very interesting sequence that defined his sex addiction, but ultimately the result was more goofy than inventive. We know Crane has a sex addiction and we know he’ll stop at nothing to be with a woman, but it’s never focused upon with great extent as I’d hoped. There’s barely any sexual scenes that show his addiction, nor is there any proof that he actually had a severe addiction. Often times his scene resemble more tones and themes of a man with a hobby rather than an addiction. Rita Wilson, whose often a talented actress, has little to nothing to do in the film as Crane’s first wife Anne. It was stated in a documentary that Crane’s wives knew of his sexual escapades which they often turned their heads from, but it’s never shown nor is it touched upon, we have no idea that the wives catch on to his affairs and seem pretty oblivious to the facts which tend to seem very inaccurate. Wilson is featured throughout most of the first half of the film then disappears leaving no truly memorable scenes or no impact upon the film, and Maria Bello who is a good actress as well, has much more to do as Crane’s second wife Patricia but ultimately fails to make an impact.

We never get to see what impact his addiction and absence had on his children who were often estranged from him as he set out on the road for business and pleasure, and we never get to understand what effects it had upon his wife. The mood for the film is filled with much lighter pastels than I’d imagined and much of the overtones are a little more humorous and satirical for a film that dealt with the sexual underground of Crane’s life. The ending is possibly the most disappointing lacking any brutality or realism yet is steeped in irony; he died alone and isolated like he lived, but it was shown with too much resemblance to the closing scenes of “American Beauty”; in fact the entire scene including the closing narrative by Crane resembled the scene too much for it to have any effect on me. This is a very interesting and compelling, but ultimately one-dimensional and superficial look into the life of Bob Crane. Greg Kinnear proves by his performance that he is one of the best and possibly most underrated actors in Hollywood today.