Auto Focus

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Auto Focus
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Written byMichael Gerbosi
Based onThe Murder of Bob Crane by Robert Graysmith
Produced by
Edited byKristina Boden
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
Distributed bySony Pictures Classics
Release date
  • October 18, 2002 (2002-10-18)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million
Box office$2.7 million

Auto Focus is a 2002 American biographical film directed by Paul Schrader and starring Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. The screenplay by Michael Gerbosi is based on Robert Graysmith's book The Murder of Bob Crane (1993).[1][2]

Auto Focus tells a dramatized story of actor Bob Crane, an affable radio show host and amateur drummer who found success on Hogan's Heroes, a popular television sitcom, and his dramatic descent into the underbelly of Hollywood after the series was cancelled, and after forming a friendship with John Henry Carpenter.

Carpenter was tried and acquitted of Crane's murder. Although the crime remains officially unsolved, it has remained the main subject of suspicion even after his death in 1998.[3]


Disc-jockey-turned-actor Bob Crane develops a secret personal life, focusing on his relationship with John Henry Carpenter, an electronics expert involved with the nascent home video market. Encouraged by Carpenter and enabled by his expertise, Crane—a church-going, clean-cut family man—becomes a sex addict obsessed with women and with recording his encounters using video and photographic equipment, usually with Carpenter participating.

As years pass, the relationship between Crane and Carpenter unravels in a dangerous way. Crane is divorced by two wives, first Anne and then Patty, a former co-star from his hit television series Hogan's Heroes. After the show goes off the air, Crane struggles to find work while dealing with money troubles. By the time Walt Disney Productions hires him for the leading role in a family movie, Superdad, his reputation for being obsessed with sex and pornography starts to jeopardize his image.

Confined to doing dinner theater in mid-sized cities, Crane's attempts to distance himself from Carpenter fail as their sexual escapades continue. Carpenter soon becomes "my only friend," but after a final falling-out between them in Scottsdale, Arizona, someone bludgeons Crane to death inside a motel room. Carpenter is tried for the murder, but not until many years later, when he is acquitted. Crane's murder remains unsolved.


Production notes[edit]

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and 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.[4]

The DVD release includes a 50-minute documentary, Murder in Scottsdale, which delves into the initial murder investigation and the reopening of the case some 15 years later.[citation needed]

The DVD also features several audio commentary tracks. Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe can be heard joking about how the stylist made up Kinnear's hair to resemble Bob Crane's. A quick online search for photos of the real Bob Crane reveals that, while taking pains to match Crane's hair color and thickness as Kinnear noted, the stylist parted his hair on the wrong side.

Critical reception[edit]

The film met with a largely positive reception from critics. 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."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars calling it "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."[6]

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."[7]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded it 3½ out 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."[8]

Todd McCarthy of Variety called it "one of director Paul Schrader's best films, and like Boogie Nights ranks as a shrewd exposé 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 period in Los Angeles feel without getting elaborate about it, and musical contributions by Angelo Badalamenti and a host of pop tunes are tops."[9]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 72% based on 162 reviews, and an average rating of 6.64/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Kinnear and Dafoe help make this downward spiral of one man's life a compelling watch."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Criticism by Scotty Crane[edit]

One of Bob Crane's sons, Scotty, bitterly attacked the film as being inaccurate. In an October 2002 piece he wrote on the film, Scotty said that his father was not a regular church-goer and had only been to church three times in the last dozen years of his life, including his own funeral. There is no evidence that Crane engaged in S&M, and director Paul Schrader told Scotty that the S&M scene was based on Schrader's own personal experience. Scotty claims that his father and John Carpenter did not become close friends who socialized together until 1975, and that Crane was already a sex addict and had recorded his sexual encounters since 1956, long before he became famous.[12]

Scotty and his mother had written their own script for a film biography on Crane. The spec script, alternately titled "F-Stop" and "Take Off Your Clothes and Smile", was written up in Variety by columnist Army Archerd, but after Auto-Focus was announced, interest in Scotty's script ceased.[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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


  1. ^ Booth, William (March 1, 2007). "A Killer Obsession". The Washington Post.
  2. ^ Graysmith, Robert (May 18, 1993). The Murder of Bob Crane: Who Killed the Star of Hogan's Heroes?.
  3. ^ "Motion Picture Purgatory: Auto Focus". DreadCentral.
  4. ^ "Auto Focus".
  5. ^ Scott, A.O. (October 4, 2002). "Movies: Auto Focus". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Ebert, Robert (October 25, 2002). "Reviews: Auto Focus". Chicago Sun-Times.
  7. ^ Guthmann, Edward (October 25, 2002). "Review: Auto Focus". San Francisco Chronicle.
  8. ^ Travers, Peter (October 17, 2002). "Movie Reviews: Auto Focus". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on November 15, 2007.
  9. ^ Schrader, Paul (September 2, 2002). "Review: Auto Focus". Variety.
  10. ^ "Auto Focus (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  11. ^ "Auto Focus Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  12. ^ Crane, Scotty. "Raging Bullshit: Auto Focus Is Not My Dad's Story". The Stranger. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  13. ^ "The Truth About Bob Crane". Morty's Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011.

External links[edit]