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Nor is Schrader impressed by the much-touted indie-film scene. As a juror at Sundance a few years ago, he spent the festival indiscreetly mocking the competition films for their banality. He can’t understand why anybody would go through the pain of making a low-budget movie “just so it can be middlebrow.” When I bring up My Big Fat Greek Wedding, he smiles and reminds me that its producer, Rita Wilson, plays Bob Crane‘s first wife in Auto Focus: “Rita told me about her movie while we were shooting.” He laughs. “She told me I wouldn’t have to see it.”
Personally, I‘d love to read Schrader’s review of that film. He has always been a walking contradiction -- both a headlong sinner forever diving into the mosh pit of carnal weakness and a righteous inquisitor whose baleful eye registers the world‘s transgressions. When he talks about the movies, you feel the weight of his strong religious background.
“Well, it does tend to make you a little judgmental when you’re raised to believe that there are moral certainties and actions of consequences, and that at the end of your life you will be called to account and judged for how you have used your talents. You can run away from that, but you can‘t run far.
”I remember when I went to [producer] Don Simpson’s wake. Don and I had been very close at one point, very close, and all those people were saying these silly things about him, like, ‘He was a good skier.’ I was walking out onto the floor next to [studio honcho] Dawn Steele, and I said, ‘Dawn, I believe that when one’s life is over, it can be called into account and put on the scales. And if you put Don‘s life on the scales, he is a loss. He did not live a good life. He’s an immoral object lesson, not anything else.‘ As much as I liked him, I had no reservation about putting his life on the scales, as I would not have about putting my own life on the scales.“
How, then, would he judge himself? Is Paul Schrader a good guy? The question takes him a bit by surprise, and he’s momentarily skittish.
”Well, if you use the analogy of the talents from the Gospels, I feel I have made good use of the gifts I was given. I‘ve used them appropriately and responsibly and I feel good. And this has simply to do with self-worth -- it’s nothing about awards, nothing about box office. All things considered, I feel that I have lived a very meritorious artistic life. I‘ve failed, of course, but that’s almost a predicate: You can‘t succeed unless you fail.“
Which could almost be the lesson of Bob Crane’s long, thoughtless roller-coaster ride from public triumph to pubic catastrophe, to weird immortality as the anti-hero of Auto Focus. What‘s Schrader’s verdict on him?
”I was talking to Steve Martin, and Steve remembered hearing Bob on the radio. And that‘s who he wanted to be. Part of the great Crane appeal was being in on the joke -- the guy who coughed over the smoking commercial, the guy who made fun of the sponsors when no one was doing that.“ He shakes his head. ”Imagine being a comedian who specialized in being in on the joke, then having the big joke become your own life -- and you just don’t get it.“