The title "Auto Focus" relates to "self-involved", not the operation of camera lenses (which were not around in Bob's day.) The movie covers the period of 1965-1978 in the life of actor Bob Crane.
"But why Bob Crane"? you might ask. Good question. Bob Crane is best-known as "Colonel Hogan" in the hit TV sit-com "Hogan's Heroes" which aired for 6 years. Previous to that, Bob did mostly radio work, and some minor acting. After "Hogan's Heroes" was abruptly cancelled, he had a hard time getting much meaningful work, mostly because of his reputation for having an addiction to sex and pornography, which is the main thrust of the movie.
While at first blush this may not seem to be much of a story, it is strangely compelling. It was directed by Paul Shrader, who wrote Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, so he is no lightweight when it comes to dark subjects. However, the movie is pretty quite bright and cheery for the first third or so. Then by design, as we see more and more of Bob Crane's degrading life and lifestyle, the colors get darker and drabber, different film-stock is used for a grungier feel, the camera becomes hand-held rather than having smooth pans, etc.
Bob met up with a man named John Carpenter, who was sort of a video enthusiast/merchandiser, when video was just getting going. There is a fair amount of retro-video technology shown in the movie - big bulky cameras (VTR's - video tape recorders)- which produce reel-to-reel tape, then big bulky cassettes, etc. In fact, like modern men, these two characters sometimes would be more interested in the working of the technology than the ladies they have brought home.
These two men struck it off and became good friends. With his TV show on the air, Bob had no problem getting women, and John reaped some benefits as well. Although rather conservative, and a Catholic, Bob divorced his first wife and married an actress from "Hogan's Heroes". He continued his decline with videotaping and cataloging his sex adventures up until the end.
Bob's murder is still unsolved, mostly due to the fact that the majority of evidence is circumstantial, and the DNA testing abilities back then (1978) were somewhat rudimentary. Therefore, although there was a trial, the accused was acquitted.
Greg Kinnear plays Crane, and Willem Dafoe is John Carpenter. In many respect Kinnear's career is similar to Crane's - radio background, not very large acting roles, etc. Both actors do a fine job. Some notables also show up in the supporting roles, including one of Bob's sons as an interviewer.
Director Paul Shrader says he was not a fan of "Hogan's Heroes" and the movie was not an attempt to revive any warm-fuzzies of that show. He simply saw an intriguing story. In one scene, in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, the central portion of the scene of oral sex was pixellated. At first, you think "that's odd", but Shrader explains that he wanted to show the actual hardcore videotaping that Crane was doing so we would know this wasn't just a little cheesecake stuff he was doing on occasion. Had the scene just been cut, then we would not really know how deep Bob was sinking. There are other scenes of sex, but most is on the old video tape played on a TV with low resolution and image quality.
Director Paul Shrader's commentary is very good and interesting, mostly about technical aspects of the film and story. The second commentary by the writer and two producers is only for the first hour due to space, and is mostly about the script development, though it too was interesting.
There is an excellent documentary about the investigation into Bob's death including graphic photos of the bloody body. The police, prosecutor, defense attorneys and family members all contribute. There is footage for the trial, which as I mentioned, resulted in acquittal. If the available evidence had been analyzed with modern technology, I'm quite sure the accused would have been convicted of manslaughter at least.
Very well-made movie of an off-beat subject. There are some comical aspects to offset the darkness. The short and shallow behind-the-scenes was the only disappointment. Recommended - but not as a first date movie.