by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
I've touched many times upon the subject of
actors who were born to play their roles.
- Eleanor of Aquitaine had two families, one in
France, one in England, having been married to the
king of each country. Katharine Hepburn was
descended from both of Eleanor's families, and when
she played Eleanor in The Lion in Winter, she was
exactly the same age as the character.
- Anybody who really knows anything about Rimbaud
can tell you that the young Dicaprio was essentially
the same guy. Rimbaud was too young to be doing what
he did, looked even younger, and was cocky about it.
If you read a description of Rimbaud's personality
or his looks, you will think they are talking about
Leo, so it was no surprise to see Dicaprio play
Rimbaud in Total Eclipse.
- Madonna and Eva Duarte (Evita Peron)?
Fuggidaboudit! The same woman. It would have been
awesome casting if only Madonna could act.
I think you can add to the list Greg Kinnear and Bob
Crane. Some wag once referred to Kinnear, back in his
talk show days, as "the hardest smirking man in show
business." True enough, and if you could go back to the
60's, you could say the same about Bob Crane. Crane
started his show biz career as a shallow, glib,
wisecracking DJ, once the top radio voice in Los
Angeles. Kinnear came to prominence as a shallow, glib
wisecracking VJ, except that he hosted video clips from
talk shows rather than music videos. Both men were very
handsome in an approachable, clean-cut way, and both
managed to parlay their charm and looks into an acting
career. If you saw distant photos of them from the right
angles, Kinnear might even pass for Crane. Kinnear is a
much better actor than Crane, but that's OK, because
we're watching a movie in which Kinnear plays Crane, so
we want him to have some aptitude other than a
I don't know if Greg Kinnear has any demons which need
exorcising, but Crane sure seems to have had some, at
least according to the movie, and Kinnear was able to
portray that effectively. The movie's version of Crane's
life suggests that he was a model citizen and family man
before he became a star, then quickly turned away from
his family when stardom posed too many temptations.
Eventually his leisure time came to consist of sex, sex,
and more sex, most of it in front of a camera, preserved
to this day. Left with little career after Hogan's
Heroes left the air and Disney fired him, Crane toured
the country doing dinner theater, which was really just
a new context in which to get laid a lot more. He
managed to link up with a particularly sleazy wing man
in his encounters, and together they explored the limits
of the 70's swingin' lifestyle. It all ended in tragedy
when Crane was bludgeoned to death in an Arizona hotel
room in 1978, a murder still officially unsolved.
Tongue Magazine described the murder as follows:
"In the early-morning hours of June 29, 1978, in
Scottsdale, Arizona, where Crane was appearing in the
play Beginner's Luck, someone entered his apartment,
bludgeoned him to death, tied an electrical cord around
his neck for good measure, and fled the scene. Although
any number of irate husbands and boyfriends of Crane's
conquests probably wanted him dead, Carpenter (Crane's
wing man) quickly became a prime suspect. According to
one theory, he was angry and despondent because Crane
wanted to end their association. Scott Crane suggests
that his father broke from Carpenter because his
parents, who had separated and initiated divorce
proceedings, were in the process of reconciling, and
Crane had begun seeing a psychiatrist about his sexual
Crane's son Scott is not a fan of this movie. He used to
maintain a website at bobcrane.com, the main purpose of
which was to present all of Crane's sex film archives to
a curious public (for a fee - you could get three days
for $3.95 if you were just mildly curious), but the site
acquired a second purpose after this film came out.
Scott used it as a bully pulpit to deliver sermons about
the inaccuracies in Auto Focus, including the following:
- The primary factual correction presented by Crane
is the fact that his dad never had a penile implant,
as suggested in the film. Scotty refutes that
thoroughly, and even provides a picture of his
father's prodigious all-natural member, as
photographed by Bob himself in 1956.
- Scotty further points out that the film
incorrectly posits that it was success and John
Carpenter that corrupted his father. In the film's
world, Crane was Faust and Carpenter was his
Mephistopheles. In the real world, Bob Crane's porno
film archives dated all the way back to 1956, and
his still pictures went back even further, years
before he was Col Hogan, and years before he met
John Carpenter. Scotty says, "my father had been
having extramarital affairs and photographing
hundreds of nude women engaged in sexual activity
since the 1940s."
- Scotty also points out that his dad wasn't into
any S&M, as the movie suggests.
- More important than the raw facts, however, are
Scotty's claims that the film has the tone all
wrong, that it is imbued with the dark tone of
director Paul Shrader's life, not Bob Crane's.
According to Scotty, his dad's sex films are filled
with fun and jokes and goofy music and cutaways to
TV shows. The material limns the same old happy,
silly, unthreatening persona we expect from Bob
Crane, not the dark, miserable sleazebag suggested
by the last act of Auto Focus.
On the other hand, Bobby Crane, another son from a
different marriage, supports the film and served as
technical advisor on the screenplay.
The sons' disagreements constitute a complex issue, with
private agendas. Crane divorced Bobby's mother to marry
Scotty's mom. My take is that Scotty is right about the
factual inaccuracies, but has a highly inflammatory
personality and is unwilling to accept the necessary
artistic license which makes a biopic different from a
docu-drama. Whether you agree with him or not, Scotty's
defunct site was an interesting read. My favorite bit of
gossip in it was the suggestion that John Carpenter, the
alleged bisexual who was tried for Crane's murder and
who was continually trying to push Crane into some
homosexual contact, was actually having a sexual
relationship with Richard Dawson!
Dawson? Not Werner Klemperer?
After I watched the film, I was rather shocked to see
that Roger Ebert gave it four stars, virtually assuring
it a spot in his annual Top 10. It's a good film, but I
just can't see what prompted Ebert's four stars. The
solid but unspectacular 6.6 score at IMDb seems about
right to me, I thought that Kinnear and Willem Dafoe
turned in excellent characterizations as Crane and
Carpenter, and the movie held my interest, but I was
predisposed to be interested in it because I watched
Crane on TV when I was a kid. After all, Hogan's Heroes
ran all through my high school and college years, and
Bob Crane was murdered when I was still in my 20's, so
Colonel Hogan was a familiar figure and I was fascinated
to see how they portrayed him. I think it is reasonable
to say that it is a three-star movie, and I recommend it
if you're interested in the subject matter and not
offended by extreme sex and nudity, but I didn't see the
masterpiece that Mr Ebert saw.
What I saw was a very close parallel in style and plot
to Requiem for a Dream - except that Paul Shrader
substituted sex addition for heroin addiction. It's
easier to watch than Requiem, because orgies are
inherently more watchable than festering, infected
limbs, but it followed the same general formula, and
used very similar musical riffs to reinforce the mood of
the "decline" period.
I guess you don't have to view Auto Focus as a
cautionary tale. You can say it is a biopic, but a
biopic needs to have one of two things going for it.
Either (1) it is a completely historical picture that
presents the truth in an entertaining or educational
way, or (2) it uses the basic shell of a celebrity's
life as the fabric to weave a movie structure which
succeeds on its own, and becomes a film we would watch
even if we knew it were fictional. I don't think Auto
Focus is a great success by either criterion. Scotty
Crane has convinced me that it is not a factual film so,
since we know that the characters are somewhat
fictional, we are left asking this question: "If we
thought the characters were completely fictional, would
we still think it was a great film?" My answer is no.
I suppose that leaves the film with a fairly narrow
audience. If you are familiar with Bob Crane and are
interested in learning more about his very real sexual
exploits and his putative dark side, then you should see
it, because it is a slick and professional movie. If you
aren't specifically interested in the subject matter,
you will probably not be so enthusiastic. If the
character had been named Joe Blow, and if the film had
not been populated with characterizations of Hollywood
figures familiar to me, I would have found it a
watchable movie, but not an especially engaging one.