is “auto focus” an out-of-focus half-assed piece of garbage?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 minutes.

IT’S NOT OFTEN that I am moved to write a piece about a movie based on a re­view of the movie in­stead of the movie it­self. But last night I watched Auto Focus with Greg Kin­near playing actor Bob Crane. I knew very little about Crane’s life, ex­cept that he was the star of Hogan’s He­roes, had a HUGE lust for women—lots and lots of women—and for video­taping his ac­tiv­i­ties with those women. And that he was murdered.

This morning I looked the movie up to check out its ac­cu­racy and found a re­view by Scotty Crane, Bob Crane’s son. “Raging Bull­shit (Auto Focus Is Not My Dad’s Story)” opens rea­son­ably enough:

“In the film Auto Focus: The Life of Bob Crane, Greg Kin­near plays Bob Crane on two. Bob was never on two. He was al­ways on 11. My fa­ther was charming, silly, and gre­gar­ious, some­times to the point of annoyance.

He was hardly the beaten-down sad sack that Kin­near plays in this cheap, pre­dictable, out-of-focus piece of god­damn garbage. Auto Focus is a mon­u­ment to every­thing rotten in so-called “biopics” today; it’s based on nothing but rumor and in­nu­endo and is not the true story of Bob Crane’s life. Not even close.”

Scotty Crane then lists eight bones of con­tention he has with the film’s his­tor­ical ac­cu­racy. For me, the most im­por­tant were these:

“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. [He] recorded his ex­tra­mar­ital ac­tiv­i­ties 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.“1


My fa­ther recorded his ac­tiv­i­ties long be­fore he be­came a star and did not film women without their consent!


After tearing the film apart for fac­tual in­ac­cu­racy, he con­cludes with a den­i­grating look at di­rector Paul Schrader (edited below):

“This story has all the in­gre­di­ents to make a great movie without the Travis Bickle sen­sa­tion­alism. Didn’t happen. None of this should come as a sur­prise, as Paul Schrader has never done well as a di­rector. Schrader’s di­rec­to­rial ef­forts have usu­ally fallen flat (Cat People, Hard­core). Auto Focus is no ex­cep­tion to this trend.

Your film is vi­sual crap and a the­atrical dis­aster. I doubt any re­views that don’t come from well-greased ma­chines will dis­agree with me. You shouldn’t have both­ered with this lazy, half-assed at­tempt at por­traying my fa­ther.“2

Now that’s a re­view! 3

Bob Crane’s lust for lots and lots of women and video­taping them was kinky but not crim­inal. Click To Tweet

Photo of Greg Kinnear and Maria Bello in the movie AUTO FOCUS.

FEATURED IMAGE: Auto Focus stars Greg Kin­near as Bob Crane and Willem Dafoe as John Car­penter. It has an ex­cel­lent sup­porting cast, with Maria Bello as Pa­tricia Olson, who acted under the stage-name Sigrid Valdis, and who even­tu­ally mar­ried Crane. The photo at the top of the page is from the movie de­picting a scene from the ’60s tele­vi­sion se­ries Hogan’s He­roes. This scene shows Bob Crane (Kin­near) as Colonel Hogan with Pa­tricia Olson (Bello) as Hilda, the German POW camp’s secretary

Fi­nally, con­sen­sual pho­tographing or video­taping of con­sen­sual sex is kinda kinky, but usu­ally only to non-kinky people. It can be lots of fun for everyone in­volved! But pho­tographing or filming your sex part­ners without their con­sent is creepy and crim­inal. Based on the movie, Bob Crane was kinda kinky but not creepy or criminal.



1  I did not get this point at all: that Crane had somehow “suc­cumbed to the temp­ta­tions of Hol­ly­wood.” What Bob Crane and John Car­penter did was highly un­usual by any stan­dards of the time: most people (and that in­cludes ac­tors), do not have hun­dreds of sex part­ners a year, year after year; most people have never had a three­some, let alone a four­some; most people have never filmed their sexual ac­tivity. Those state­ments re­main true today.

2   While it may be a “lazy, half-assed at­tempt” at un­der­standing and de­picting Bob Crane, Auto Focus is an en­joy­able movie with good acting from the leads to the ex­cel­lent sup­porting cast. 

3   I am praising the damn-the-torpedoes at­ti­tude of the re­view, not agreeing with it. I en­joyed the movie, even if it was slow at times. But it def­i­nitely needs a new ending: given the final min­utes of the movie, it is dif­fi­cult not to as­sume that Car­penter mur­dered Crane. There was no real ev­i­dence, and he was ac­quitted in trial.

Schrader gives us little mo­ti­va­tion for Car­penter have killed his best friend, but he gives no one else who could have had any other mo­ti­va­tion (bur­glary was not in­volved). Yet by the time of Bob Crane’s murder in 1978, he had slept with and/or pho­tographed and/or video­taped thou­sands upon thou­sands of women. Each of those women and thou­sands of hus­bands and boyfriends had pos­sible mo­ti­va­tion to murder the man . . . 


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