It was a hot summer day on August 22, 1972 and 27-year-old Italian New Yorker John Stanley Wojtowicz was about go down in the annals of criminal and pop culture history as the man who spawned the film based on the true events of that hot summer day. The film was Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, and John Wojtowicz was fluently portrayed by none other than Al Pacino.
Released on September 12, 1975, three years after the real-life cops and robbers sideshow took center stage, Dog Day Afternoon became all the rage. Al Pacino was still on fire from his previous film The Godfather, and now he bore quite a remarkable resemble to the real life bank robber John Wojtowicz.
Just who was John Wojtowicz? After seeing the film documentary The Dog, there may be just a tad of ambiguity about who John Wojtowicz is, but for the most part, it’s an unadulterated testament to the life of a man who was admittedly a sexual pervert. Wojtowicz in his own words candidly reveals himself and the history that led up to that fateful day in August 1972.
Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, The Dog documents the botched robbery, the life of John Wojtowicz, and the effect the robbery ultimately had on the lives of his loved ones. From his wife and mother of his children, Carmen, to his mother, Terry, to Liz, the transsexual Wojotowicz was allegedly robbing the bank for.
The documentary opens with commentary from the post-prison-years of Wojtowicz’s life. Wojtowicz is engaging and amusing to behold. That being said, it could also be noted that Wojtowicz, in summary, is as well narcissistic and perhaps sociopathically unapologetic for his deed.
It is common knowledge that the real life Wojtowicz robbed the Brooklyn Chase Manhattan bank on Avenue P and E. Third St. because he wanted to buy a sex change operation for his wife Liz. A year prior John and Liz (born Ernest Aron) had a gay wedding ceremony even though John was already legally married to Carmen Bifulco, whom he had split from in 1969.
The Dog goes on to reveal via Liz that there was another aspect of John’s life that spawned the 14 hour robbery and police stand-off, and that aspect was an unpaid Mob debt. Wojtowicz however, never at all makes note of any such event in his life.
This documentary might render viewers a tad nostalgic and prompt a trip to the video store to revisit the Academy Award winning film. Dog Day Afternoon took the Academy Award for Best Writing / Original Screenplay (Frank Pierson), and was nominated in the categories of Best Actor (Al Pacino), Best Supporting Actor (Chris Sarandon as the transsexual), Best Director (Sidney Lumet), and Best Film Editing (DeDe Allen).
Berg and Keraudren focus mainly on Wojtowicz’s commentary. Wojtowicz finds it not at difficult to talk about himself. He’s quick to note his attributes as well as his faults and failings. Reminiscent of a Shakespearean soliloquy, Wojtowicz speaks of his attachment to love and asserts that a human being can indeed love more than one person. Wojtowicz also asserts that if a person really loves someone they will do anything to help them.
To counter Wojtowicz’s commentary, Berg and Keraudren neatly constructs commentary from Wojtowicz’s loving mother Terry who accepted her son’s homosexuality even though she did not really approve of or understand it. Viewers are introduced to Wojtowicz’s tumultuous prison years where he met his next lover George, and his post prison years where he begins to capitalize on his life as the real-life “Dog.”
Most notably and yet with subtlety, this production reveals a duality of Wojtowicz’s character. While Liz wholeheartedly and sincerely reveals one aspect of Wojtowicz’s character, it curiously conflicts with a statement which is later adamantly asserted by his wife Carmen. In the end, the viewer is left with the question of which assertion is accurate. perhaps it is a mere reflection of the confliction and affliction within the psyche of John Wojtowicz.
The Dog is in limited release in selected theaters. It runs 100 minutes. While the film is not rated, it should be kept in mind that this film documents adult sexuality and it is not suitable for children.
The Dog rates four out of five stars.
Review by Janet Walters Levite
DrafthouseFilms / The Dog