Bob Crane, star of the ‘60s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, was murdered in a Scottsdale, Arizona motel room in 1978. The prime suspect was his best friend John Carpenter (not that John Carpenter, but a seedy video technician who introduced Crane to a world of sex, lies, and videotape). As portrayed in Paul Schrader’s fascinating Auto Focus (adapted from Robert Graysmith’s book The Murder of Bob Crane), Crane (Greg Kinnear) is less a sleaze ball than a mythic figure embarrassingly oblivious to just how close he was walking to the edge. Schrader’s approach to the seedy material is unusually gentle, which makes for a particularly uncomfortable viewing experience. Crane so unconsciously removes himself from the occasion of sin that his curiosity for sex is every bit as evolving as the advent of video technology. It’s here that that the beauty of the film’s title deserves mentioning: If Crane is out of focus, then Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) is pulling that focus (his color-blindness signals his demise just as black-and-white television is on its way out). If Carpenter is unprepared for the technology of the future, Crane’s ill-advised mechanism of success is set to fast, cheap, and out of control. The Crane depicted here is likeable but thoroughly naïve, so much so that he’s unaware of the double entendre he makes during the film’s opening narration. Michael Gerbosi’s clever script takes jabs at wholesome television and deftly questions measures of success (for Crane, Paul Lynde’s Hollywood Square was a step up after Hogan’s Heroes). Shrader’s latest investigation of modern masculinity in crisis treats the friendship between Crane and Carpenter as something not unlike a drug addiction. Crane demands that Carpenter end his friendship with Richard Dawson (Michael E. Rodgers), showing him his penis after it’s been surgically enlarged. These scenes, however, do not necessarily contemplate the possibility of a homosexual relationship between the two men. These moments seemingly emphasize the comfort of their friendship and, in a way, become the film’s most romantic moments. Shrader never blames Carpenter for Crane’s death directly though he certainly welcomes the notion that Crane may have died for taking advantage of his addiction.
- Paul Schrader
- Michael Gerbosi
- Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman, Bruce Solomon, Michael Rodgers
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