A documentary portrait of the late John Wojtowicz, whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank to finance his male lover's sex-reassignment surgery was the real-life inspiration for Dog Day Afternoon (1975).
Coming of age in the 1960s, John Wojtowicz libido was unrestrained even by the libertine standards of the era, with multiple wives and lovers, both women and men. In August 1972, he attempted to rob a Brooklyn bank to finance his lover's sex-reassignment surgery, resulting in a fourteen-hour hostage situation that was broadcast live on television. Three years later, John was portrayed by Al Pacino as 'Sonny'
"I robbed this bank." T-shirt Dog wears in front of the infamous bank.
The Dog is a documentary tribute to the genius of Al Pacino. Although it's not at all about Pacino, his depiction of Brooklyn-Italian John Wojtowicz in Dog Day Afternoon, who robbed a branch bank in the summer of 1972 to fund the sex-change operation of his lover, was so spot on that, as eccentric and wild as John is, Pacino's performance was constantly on my mind.
The doc, filled with repetitive declamations from John about his willingness to chew up life, is most interesting for me briefly when his first wife, Carmen, hints that John may have robbed the Brooklyn bank because of debt to the mob, not just the sex change. Wish I could have seen that back-story because the film mostly lets John ramble on.
Alas, the film belongs to Republican Vietnam vet John, whose arc moves to and past his defining role in the botched robbery. While he claims to have married as many as four men, we watch him age in a manic pose, always talking, usually defending his bizarre bisexual exploits, seeming never to step out of his rebel role, fighting and eventually losing to cancer.
Even prison can't dull his enthusiasm for the bizarre sexuality that has been his signature. It is the '70's after all, when the Gay Activists Alliance was born. For John, it's a chance to find partners more than sympathy with the emerging Greenwich Village Stonewall initiative. The doc pays little attention to the actual robbery (I suppose it would be futile to try to match Sydney Lumet's superb film adaptation) and chooses to emphasize Dog's bravado and his close relationship with his mother, Terry (amateur psych sleuths can already smell Oedipus if not Freud). She is one tough little lady, enduring his increasingly strange actions with a love and equanimity suggesting she could also be the subject of a doc. It's doubtful how she could be held even partially responsible for a man who robs a bank and takes hostages.
Dog embodies self absorption and willful violation of civility that eventually make him much less likable than the odd Brooklyn punk he started out as. Thanks goodness for the archival news footage and Al Pacino.
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