Friday, June 3, 2011

Film Pairing — Reel Life or Not

Who killed Hogan of “Hogan’s Heroes?” Did Superman Kill Himself? When I was a little kid, the toy cars I played with had to be roughly the same size. For some reason scale was important. Perhaps it is a character flaw. When I read books or watch movies, I’m similarly wary of mixing fact and fiction. I’m not sure I want historical figures playing a role in a work of fiction, no matter how well it is done. I realize that there are unkind names for people like me. But in not fully recommending two crime movies that, on the surface, seem to be perfectly matched, you might want to consider that I find creatively forged endings to real life dramas a bit like a judge giving this instruction to the jury in a murder trial: “Please feel free to speculate.”

Auto Focus (2002) is the movie about Hogan’s Heroes TV star Bob Crane and the disintegration of his life and career, ending in a violent death. It is not speculative to say that he was, in real life, murdered. However, in addition to the liberties the moviemakers took to depict his early career, the writers also identified the killer, a person who existed in real life, but who wasn’t even brought to trial. Directed by Paul Schrader and starring Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe, Auto Focus is a strangely compelling, though extremely discomforting, work that may be somehow appropriate for an actor whose career is based on a successful, lighthearted TV comedy set in a German prisoner of war camp.

Hollywoodland (2006) also follows the real-life career of an actor sidetracked by success. George Reeves played Superman in the 1950s and in a direct parallel to Bob Crane as Hogan, could not escape the role he played so successfully. Reeves, who considered himself a serious actor, could not find work despite and because he was so successful playing Clark Kent/Superman. The movie, directed by Allen Coulter and starring Ben Affleck (perfectly cast), Diane Lane and Adrien Brody, is a solid film. The troubling part of doing a real life drama is that in cases like this, so much of it isn’t real. One major character didn’t exist. And George Reeves’ death — suicide or murder — remains in question by the filmmakers, while real life police, coroner and D.A. have decided.

You might want to make screwdrivers for the evening. You’ll need your strength and perhaps the sugar to keep you from falling into the abyss.

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