Preview by: Jack Foley
ONE of Hollywoods sleaziest unsolved mysteries is the subject
of a new film called Auto Focus, directed by Paul Schrader (the
man who wrote Taxi Driver).
Based on the biography, The Murder of Bob Crane, the movie tells
the story of Hogans Heroes star, Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear),
who became obsessed with capturing his sexual conquests on video
in the years after his popular show was cancelled.
Together with long-time friend and video technician, John Carpenter
(Willem Dafoe), Crane toured strip joints and seedy venues galore
during the late Seventies, before being found, bludgeoned to death,
in a motel in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1978.
Carpenter was subsequently arrested for the murder but was acquitted,
following an eight-week trial. The case remains one of Hollywoods
darker unsolved mysteries.
Needless to say, Kinnear (in the role of Crane) raised several
eyebrows after agreeing to appear in the project. Even director,
Schrader, confessed that the star of films such as Nurse Betty,
Youve Got Mail and As Good As It Gets, had gotten into something
of a box with his career.
Yet the trick of transforming himself has worked, with the majority
of US critics praising the change of direction and hailing the
film as Schraders most accomplished film, as director, to
Kinnear, though, admits to having to do some serious thinking
before taking on the role, which required a lot of nudity, as
well as some fairly kinky material - scenes are said to include
Kinnear and co-star, Dafoe, masturbating while watching home-made
porn together and a fantasy sequence involving a three-way between
Colonel Klink, Sergeant Schultz and Hilda.
The makers even had to remove some of the naughtiest moments
(digitally) to avoid getting the NC-17 rating - which generally
sounds the death knell for any films commercial chances.
Kinnear, though, remains proud of the efforts, and dismisses
notions that the on-screen sex is explicit, saying its not
Monsters Ball, but still pretty disturbing.
He even let his wife, former model, Helen Labdon, choose a body
double for him during some of the orgy scenes, confessing to Entertainment
Weekly that she went a little bigger than I would have.
But Schrader is equally impressed with the results of the casting
gamble. The man behind equally disturbing movies, Hardcore and
Affliction, describes the role as a really smart choice
for Kinnear and says the option of casting someone like Mickey
Rourke in the role would have been too predictable.
Referring to Kinnear as a slice of white bread, he
believes his appearance makes the movie seem even more perverse.
Yet it is not without its fair share of controversy. According
to the New York Times Magazine, Cranes real-life sons, Bobby
and Scotty, are divided over the films merits.
Older son, Bobby, likes it and describes it as an accurate representation
of his father, while the younger, Scotty, claims it has destroyed
his fathers reputation.
Given the controversial nature of its subject matter, it is hardly
surprising that reaction was mixed among critics, although there
seemed to be more positives than negatives.
E! Online awarded it a B and praised both Kinnear and
Dafoe for making this trip to the dark side worth it,
while LA Weekly said the movie is one of [Shrader's]
most accomplished, and most entertaining.
Reel Views referred to it as a compelling motion
picture that illustrates an American tragedy (awarding it
three out of four), while Rolling Stone felt that it is
potent and provocative.
Salon even felt that Kinnear pulls off the feat
of making us feel something for Crane.
Less positive, however, were the likes of Hollywood Reporter,
which felt that the film leaves one with a slightly sick,
FilmCritic.com felt that it has so many flaws, its
hard to recommend, while the New York Times felt
that it amounts almost to a clinical case study in joyless,
The Washington Post, meanwhile, felt that it never
answers the key question: Why should we care?
However, the Chicago Sun-Times felt that it was a
hypnotic portrait of this sad, compulsive life, while the
Los Angeles Times opined that it was strangely wonderful
and weirdly touching.
Variety wrote that this true-life saga of sex, lies
and videotape is one of director Paul Schrader's best films, and
like Boogie Nights ranks as a shrewd expose of recent Hollywood's
slimy underside, while Entertainment Weekly awarded
it a B+ and wrote that the performances are vividly alive.