An intimate look at a larger than life character, John Wojtowicz, who could have done anything. He had that rare charisma and forceful personality (not to mention survival instinct) which attracted others and gave him intense self-belief.
But Wojtowicz was a hedonist and a libertine and his aspirations were for a good time. The wild ride of his life took him many places, but his notoriety came from a failed attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank. The bizarre story became the acclaimed 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon - directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino.
Wojtowicz robbed the bank in an attempt to finance his lover's sex change operation. Ernie/Liz and John had been married in a Village bar and called each other husband and wife. Wojtowicz did not support the operation until Ernie/Liz became suicidal. He then hatched the plan with a couple of of other guys, was thwarted at a couple of other banks and then hit on a likely target. Wojtowicz had actually worked at a bank before serving in Vietnam. The robbery was interrupted in progress, the gunmen took hostages and a long stand-off ensued. Wojtowicz went to jail and his accomplice was killed by FBI.
Wojtowicz loved the attention and began calling himself The Dog. He laid his life bare for filmmakers Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, giving interviews for ten years. He is a storyteller and a fabulist and it is actually a wonderful touch that you never really know when his outrageous stories are true. He had few vices, he explains, but he loved sex and that ruled his life. This took him into the gay liberation movement of the 1970s where he found both sex and love. He loved deeply and would do anything for those he cared about (except be monogamous). He had a long-suffering (female) wife and a mother almost as unusual as he was.
The Dog takes place in a time which, while recent enough, seems white-washed from history. His seedy, gritty New York is nothing like the city today. Archival footage shows wild times, including a gay protest at the marriage bureau where a caller is asked if they are gay and then told, sorry, they can't get married. It was a time when a reporter could just call up a bank under siege and talk to the robbers and when everyone in Brooklyn crowded the streets to get a look at what was going on. It was a time when people were less media-savvy, and the period interviews from witnesses and hostages of the robbery are so much more revealing than the equivalent today. Period footage is extensive and used fantastically. And you can't help but be fascinated by the contemporary interviews and scenes which are deeply emotional affecting and often very funny.
In the end this is a sad story and Wojtowicz is an intensely sad character. Wojtowicz survived the Vietnam War, the AIDS crisis of the 80s and federal prison. But his life was a mess. The film is entertaining and I highly recommend it. A truly strange story which never gets boring.