Saturday, August 09, 2014

“The Dog”– Movie Review



This week, The Film Society Of Lincoln Center began a showing of the documentary “The Dog”, about the man whose story was depicted in the movie “Dog Day Afternoon”.


When a man discovers his homosexual tendencies, he finds himself on a long, destructive road which leads to both personal tragedy and an odd sort of fame. 



By all accounts, John Wojtowicz had a fairly normal childhood growing up in Brooklyn, New York.  Upon graduating from high school, he took a job as a bank teller and began dating his co-worker Carmen Bifulco; with the Vietnam war escalating and John being a self-described conservative Goldwater Republican, he joined the army and participated in some combat efforts overseas.  During his time in the service, however, he had an experience that would forever change his life:  he and a fellow soldier engaged in a homosexual encounter.  Despite being introduced to this alternative lifestyle, he nevertheless made good his promise to Carmen and married her upon his return. 

Although John and Carmen wound up having two children, their marriage was not as stable as it appeared.  John’s homosexual desires increased and this caused the two to separate.  Spending more time in the gay community, he became a member of The Gay Activists Alliance; soon, this led to him meeting Ernie, a transvestite who chose to assume the name of Liz.  The two ended up falling in love and were able to have an unofficial marriage ceremony, even though John hadn’t divorced Carmen and gay marriage was not yet legally recognized in New York State. 

This union was similarly unhappy; the two fought over the fact that Ernie wanted to make more of a commitment to being Liz by having a sex change operation.  After opposing the procedure for a long time, John finally consented to it, if for no other reason than it would simply make his partner happy.  Unable to pay for the surgery, he decided to rob a bank in order to get the money; he enlisted the aid of a couple of allies in the gay community and together, the three men set out to rob a Brooklyn bank on a steamy afternoon of August in 1972 – but when the job was botched and they were cornered by police, the gang took hostages.  The story made the news in New York City, then, due to its length and inherent drama, extended to make a national news story throughout the United States.  In 1975, the story was made into the Academy Award-winning movie “Dog Day Afternoon”, starring Al Pacino. 



No doubt about it, John Wojtowicz was certainly a real character.  If you thought the movie “Dog Day Afternoon” was compelling, you need to see “The Dog” to hear the real life story told directly from the man about whom the film was made.  His mother, Terry, is also interviewed; she gives a considerable amount of background and insight about John, which helps to fill in the gaps a bit.  One interesting technical note is that Terry’s Brooklyn accent is so thick that subtitles appear during her scenes; this, however, is not done with John’s narration. 

Normally, a major criticism of most documentaries is The Talking Head syndrome – too many people being interviewed on-screen.  In the case of “The Dog”, it works; hearing and seeing John and Terry – in addition to certain other key players – telling their side of the story in the manner in which they tell it is part of the pleasure of watching this documentary.  These people are as simple as they are complex and that’s what makes them so endlessly fascinating.  There’s plenty to be learned about them that never made it into “Dog Day Afternoon”. 

Prior to the screening, I viewed a showing of photographs of John that were on display in an anteroom of the theater that had been converted in to a gallery for the week.  The photos were taken by fellow Brooklynite Marcia Resnick, whose specialty during the 1970’s was using the various stars of the Punk Rock scene as her subjects.  The photos were as much of a trip as the documentary because they gave you a great view into who John was – basically, an attention-seeking egomaniac who loved being photographed.  Basically, this guy was a filmmaker’s dream – too good to be true, even the most creative screenwriter couldn’t have enough of an imagination to invent someone like him. 

The Dog (2013) on IMDb


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