Auto Focus


Auto Focus is a 2002 American biographical film directed by Paul Schrader. The screenplay by Michael Gerbosi is based on the book The Murder of Bob Crane by Robert Graysmith. It tells the story of actor Bob Crane, an affable radio show host and amateur drummer who found success on Hogan's Heroes, a popular television sitcom about a prisoner of war camp during World War II, and his dramatic descent into the underbelly of Hollywood after the series was cancelled.


The film concentrates on Crane's secret personal life, focusing on his relationship with John Henry Carpenter, an electronics expert involved with the development of the VCR. Encouraged by Carpenter and enabled by his expertise, Crane - a church-going, non-drinking family man - becomes a sex addict obsessed with sleeping with as many women as possible and recording those encounters with video and photographic equipment, usually with Carpenter participating. Auto Focus depicts Crane's life from his sitcom success through his post-Hogan's Heroes efforts to sustain a viable career - mostly in dinner theatre - until his murder.


Crane's murder remains unsolved to this day. Although Carpenter was tried and acquitted of the crime, he remained the subject of suspicion even after his death in 1998.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. It was shown at the San Sebastián Film Festival, the Helsinki International Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, and the Bergen International Film Festival before going into limited release on eleven screens in the US, earning $123,761 on its opening weekend. It grossed $2,063,196 in the US and $641,755 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $2,704,951 .

The DVD release includes a 50-minute documentary, Murder in Scottsdale, delving into the initial murder investigation and the reopening of the case some fifteen years later.


Critical reception

A.O. Scott of the New York Times said the film "gets to you like a low-grade fever, a malaise with no known antidote. When it was over, I wasn't sure if I needed a drink, a shower or a lifelong vow of chastity ... there is [a] severe, powerful moralism lurking beneath the film's dispassionate matter-of-factness. Mr. Schrader is indifferent to the sinner, but he cannot contain his loathing of the sin, which is not so much sex as the fascination with images ... To argue that images can corrupt the flesh and hollow out the soul is, for a filmmaker, an obviously contradictory exercise, but not necessarily a hypocritical one. There is plenty of nudity in Auto Focus, but you can always glimpse the abyss behind the undulating bodies, and the director leads you from easy titillation to suffocating dread, pausing only briefly and cautiously to consider the possibility of pleasure."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "a hypnotic portrait ... pitch-perfect in its decor, music, clothes, cars, language and values ... Greg Kinnear gives a creepy, brilliant performance as a man lacking in all insight ... Crane was not a complex man, but that should not blind us to the subtlety and complexity of Kinnear's performance."

Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "a compelling, sympathetic portrait ... Kinnear undercuts the seaminess of the Crane story, and shows us a man with more dimension and complexity than his behavior might suggest."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded it 3½ ot of 4 stars and added, "Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver and the director of American Gigolo, is a poet of male sexual pathology. Shot through with profane laughs and stinging drama, Auto Focus ranks with his best films."

Todd McCarthy of Variety called it "one of director Paul Schrader's best films, and like Boogie Nights ranks as a shrewd expose of recent Hollywood's slimy underside ... Schrader directs with a very smooth hand, providing a good-natured and frequently amusing spin to eventually grim material that aptly reflects the protagonist's almost unfailing good humor ... Pic overall has an excellent L.A. period feel without getting elaborate about it, and musical contributions by Angelo Badalamenti and a host of pop tunes are tops."

Awards and nominations

Paul Schrader was nominated for the Golden Seashell at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Willem Dafoe was nominated Best Supporting Actor by the Chicago Film Critics Association but lost to Tim Robbins for Mystic River.


External links

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