Sunday, January 6, 2019

Auto Focus (2002) Alienated & Obsessed Bio Noir

Director Paul Schrader started out writing screenplays.

You may have heard of a couple of the films based on them, The Yakuza, Taxi Driver, Hardcore (which he also directed), and Raging Bull. The first film he directed was Blue Collar (1978).

Auto Focus was written by Michael Gerbosi and based on the book by Robert Graysmith who also wrote Zodiac. The cinematography was by Jeffrey Greeley and Fred Murphy, and the music was by the great Angelo Badalamenti who rose to prominence scoring a number of David Lynch films, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks (1989-91 TV Series), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,  Lost Highway, The Straight StoryMulholland Drive, Twin Peaks (2017 TV Series)), and also quite a few others including The City of Lost Children, Secretary, and A Very Long Engagement. The Neo Tailfin Noir Set Decoration by Gene Serdena and the Art Direction by Seth Reed is replete with actual Googie Style Architectural locations and flourishes.  The great title sequence was by Kenneth J. Ferris (below).

The film stars Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane, Willem Dafoe as John Henry Carpenter, Rita Wilson as Anne Crane, Maria Bello as Patricia Olson/Patricia Crane/Sigrid Valdis, Ron Leibman as Lenny, Michael E. Rodgers as Richard Dawson, Kurt Fuller as Werner Klemperer, Grand L. Bush as Ivan Dixon, Christopher Neiman as Robert Clary, Ed Begley Jr. as Mel Rosen, Michael McKean as Video Executive, Roderick L. McCarthy as Bartender, John Kapelos as Bruno Gerussi, and Lyle Kanouse as John Banner.

Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) 
Anne Crane (Rita Wilson) 
One of my favorite TV shows as a twelve year old kid was Hogan's Heroes. It was a war time comedy about a group of Allied prisoners stuck in  Stalag 13 a German P.O.W. camp. . The prisoners led by suave Col. Hogan were running a sort of underground railroad for allied pilots shot down over Germany and also a sabotage team to disrupt the German war effort under the noses of the bunch of inept bumbling Germans. This series was quite successful running from 1965-71.

Cast meeting of Hogan's Heroes

Kurt Fuller as Werner Klemperer

Set of Hogan's Heroes
This Bio Noir is about the fall of Bob Crane the shows star. Crane was a musician and music/stereo enthusiast and his instrument was the drums. He actually was a member of the Connecticut Symphony for a period of time before moving to Los Angeles with his family and becoming one of the thousands of a sometimes actor, who didn't quit his day job as a successful radio DJ who incorporated a drum shtick into his show.  His first credit is a The Twilight Zone episode "Static" where he played an un-credited Disc Jockey. He appeared in Man-Trap (1961), The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a cast member of the The Donna Reed Show, before lucking into Hogan's Heroes. The film begins at the point where Crane doing his radio show is offered the Hogan part.

Lenny (Ron Leibman)
His agent Lenny (Ron Leibman) has a hard time keeping a straight face when he tells him its a comedy show about a German P.O.W. camp. Crane is reluctant at first but soon with the encouragement of his wife Anne (Rita Wilson), he accepts the offer.

John Henry Carpenter (Willem Dafoe)
It was during the run of Hogan that Crane (Greg Kinnear) met through fellow cast member Richard Dawson (Michael E. Rodgers) an electronics expert John Henry Carpenter (Willem Dafoe). Carpenter introduces Crane to the cutting edge of the home video market. He also introduces Crane to Noirsville.

church going man

Crane was a typical American Male who was happily married with two children. He was a good church going man with a few small kinks that before success were pretty benign. He was a photography buff who liked the female form. Hey if you didn't you wouldn't be heterosexual, no? He enjoyed looking at the various naked women on calendars and the covers on magazine racks, occasionally he bought a few. He figured like a lot of us do, that your wife doesn't have to know where you get your appetite, as long as you eat at home. Women are not immune to the same attractions, don't let them shit you, they fantasize about men in the numerous (at that time) movie star magazines and in today's fluff, i.e., People Magazine.

Bob Crane: I'm a normal, red-blooded American man. I like to look at naked women. I love breasts, any kind. I love 'em! Boobs, bazooms, balloons, bags, bazongas. The bigger, the better. Nipples like udders, nipples like saucers, big pale rosy-brown nipples. Little bitty baby nipples. Real or fake, what's the difference? I like tits. Who's kidding who? Tits are great!

Some of the images below illustrating the monologue above.

Carpenter suggests that Crane accompany himself and Dawson to a strip club to unwind after work. Crane agrees and at first refuses to have a drink but the peer pressure is too much. Crane is noticed by the patrons, is begged for autographs, and the band eventually asks him to sit in with them. Crane is in his element ogling the strippers on the stage.

What Carpenter and Crane mutually discover is that they have a common voyeuristic slant. Crane's success parlays into lots of come-ons from beautiful women that, with Carpenters encouragement become come-ons that Crane acts upon. Crane is the Ace and Carpenter is the wing man who picks up the leftovers.

Bob Crane: A day without sex...
John Carpenter: a day wasted!

They are not only sexaholics but become addicted to photographing and recording all their sexual conquests which are often together or in "Age Of Aquarius" orgies. Crane gets divorced, he marries Hogan's Heroes cast member Hilda - Sigrid Valdis (Maria Bello).

Sigrid Valdis (Maria Bello). 

When the series ends he has trouble coming up with the alimony payments to his first wife Anne. His notorious sexual antics make producers a bit gun shy on offers, so Crane's agent suggests he do dinner theater between TV gigs.

Lenny: Sex is not the answer.
Bob Crane: I know that Lenny, it's the question. 'Yes' is the answer.

Dinner Theater
Crane and Sigrid go on the road things are good at first but after their son is born, Sigrid stays home.  Carpenter now joins him and they resume their old tom catting ways in a race to the bottom.

Carpenter becomes his "only friend." These two are quite debauched, involving themselves in quite a few fetishes that are hinted at, i.e. S&M, jerk off competitions while watching their own homemade porn and "group gropes." Things go South with Sigrid and equally career wise understandingly.

On the road in Scottsdale, Arizona Crane finally decides that enough is enough and almost like a weird  girlfriend, he has to ditch Carpenter. When Crane gives Carpenter the "it's not you it's me" spiel, Carpenter doesn't take it very well.


Tail Fins

Capitol Records Tower in the left background

Norm's Googie Style restaurant

video sex junkies

Crane's porn stash

an orgy


The film is quite light in it's noir stylistics however, it almost verges on NIPO (Noir In Plot Only) territory and it leaves me wanting a lot more. All the strip club shots seem too well lit for those particular type of venues. A missed opportunity. It could have increased the visual atmospherics as it continually ratchets up the alienation and obsession factors all the way to the end.

The whole cast preforms admirably especially those of the Hogan's Heroes TV cast. Bravo! Still and 8/10

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