Co-directors Allison Berg and Fred Keraudren’s documentary The Dog tells the story of John Wojtowicz, the man Al Pacino made famous in the Oscar-nominated film, Dog Day Afternoon. The story of the bank robbery is set in August of 1972 with Al Pacino’s character attempting to rob a Brooklyn bank and holding people hostage. When his teenage partner-in-crime is killed and the hostages are set free, Pacino’s character (based on John Wojtowicz) is taken into custody and imprisoned. The real-life incident made the New York Times, but most people remember Al Pacino’s performance – not John’s story.
John Wojtowicz is an enigma, growing up in a working class family and walking a seemingly straight and narrow path. With his father out of the picture, John is raised by his dominating force of a mother, Terry (who narrates 10 years worth of interviews for the film). You see John’s relationship with his mentally-handicapped brother in a few tender scenes – a rarity in The Dog. But John’s world shifts as America’s social history transforms the nation. After being drafted to Vietnam, he radically changes his political beliefs and becomes a bisexual, anti-war activist, “McGovern Democrat.” John’s one vice? Sex. In the film’s opening scene, he explains different vices people have: smoking, drinking, gambling, to name a few. But he only wants sex in any way, shape, or form – with men, women, or transsexuals – anytime, anywhere. Apparently his lovable personality makes his behavior acceptable to his wife – even when John is living with a transsexual man.
The film shifts its focus to the actual events of the bank robbery, with John needing the money for his transsexual lover’s sex change operation. All the way through, John is loose marbles and not quite “all there.” Because of the notoriety of Dog Day Afternoon, he becomes this persona of the dog, saying, “I’m the dog in the movie. I’m the real person. I’m the real dog.” The drugged-together footage is unsettling. Since his passing in 2006, the timing of the film’s release is questionable, as is the entire documentary. With 10 years worth of interviews and eight years before the film’s release, I do not understand the back story and do not care to. If the movie’s boring, who wants to know more?
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (8/22/14)
Photos: John Wojtowicz, the bank robber who inspired the film
Dog Day Afternoon
Photo Credit: Drafthouse Films
Q: Does The Dog pass the Bechdel Test?
No, it does not pass the Bechdel Test. There are no conversations in which anybody is talking about anything other than John, the case, and the incident.