Out of Focus?

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"None of us are trying in any way to camouflage, mask or alter history in any fashion whatsoever," says the Los Angeles-based Blackman, who hints that litigation against Sony and, for that matter, The New York Times might be in the works. "Bob was who he was. We accept that 110 percent. But he also wasn't some of the things they say he was."

Scotty has become, in fact, Sony Pictures' best publicist: The louder he shouts, the more attention the movie receives. Ironically, Schrader doesn't even argue with Scotty's contentions that some of the movie is made up. It happens all the time in biopics: Facts get distorted, timelines get condensed, characters get amalgamated. This isn't documentary, but docudrama--an interpretation of a man's life, not a literal reading.

"Bob Crane lived 49 years, and my movie lived one hour and 42 minutes," Schrader says. "Not the same thing. Drama has characters; it has themes. If it doesn't have plot, it has an escalation of incidents. You have to get to a point where both obligations are being served. Scotty's just come back from Europe, and I think he's going to look at this situation and say, 'I'm not going to be a fool again. I'm feeding their machinery and they're playing me. I'm just going to shut up.' That would be the intelligent, prudent thing for him to do."

So far, Scotty hasn't taken his advice.

Schrader is a maker of films that are often about famous, and infamous, people; he's known both as writer (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) and director (American Gigolo, Affliction), revered for his long association with Martin Scorsese and a litany of creeps, among them Travis Bickle and Jack LaMotta. Scotty's father is a prime subject for Schrader, one more grotesquerie added to the freak show. Long ago he said he would never again make a movie about a real person. Yet he felt compelled to tell Crane's story, perhaps because it wasn't so much about Bob Crane as it was about a "delusional and clueless" celebrity who couldn't see how much damage his hobby was causing to himself, his family and his career. Crane became, in the end, just a symbol to Schrader--"a light, breezy guy" who lived in a very dark place.

"This was a story that would have been worth telling even if it had been made up," the writer-director says, sitting next to Kinnear on a couch in a Dallas hotel. "And that, to me, is the number-one factor: You shouldn't be making a film about a real-life person just because they were real, you know?"

Those are hardly the kinds of words that console Patricia Olson, stage name Sigrid Valdis, though she hasn't appeared on stage and screen for more than 30 years. Olson, who played one of Colonel Klink's secretaries on Hogan's Heroes, was Bob Crane's second wife, and as recently as July, Scotty insisted she was ready to grant her first interview since Bob's murder. But in recent weeks, Scotty cooled to the idea, saying his mother had taken ill because of the furor over Auto Focus. According to Scotty, Patricia was healthy 18 months ago, but when she obtained a copy of the Auto Focus screenplay--credited to Michael Gerbosi, though Schrader says at least 50 percent of the script is his--she could no longer sleep or eat. She would spend all her time on the Internet searching for information about the movie. He says his mother lost 75 pounds and was checked into the emergency room three times for malnutrition and "stress-related issues."

"She was a very happy 66-year-old woman a year ago," Scotty says. "Now she's 67, and this isn't how a 67-year-old murder victim should live. She still wears her [wedding] ring, never dated, and this isn't how she's supposed to be living out her golden years." Patricia did grant one interview, to ABC's 20/20, but Scotty says the experience was so horrific she will not talk publicly again. Instead, he passes along e-mails that indicate they were written by Patricia; one even hints that perhaps Bobby Crane isn't Bob Crane's real son.

So it goes: accusations piled atop protestations, gasoline poured onto roaring holocausts. To the outsider, such furor seems almost unfathomable: Bob Crane was just a one-hit wonder with a bad habit, a sex addict whose death remains unsolved. (John Carpenter, who introduced Crane to the joys of videotape, was tried for the killing in 1992 but never convicted; Carpenter, portrayed in Auto Focus by Willem Dafoe, died not long after the trial.) Today his exploits would seem tame, unworthy of major-motion-picture documentation; at best, he'd wind up with an E! True Hollywood Story.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky