Growing up in the 1960s, John Wojtowicz embraced the free love of the era having multiple wives, lovers, both men and women. In August 1972, John attempted to rob a bank in Brooklyn in an effort to finance his lover's sex-reassignment surgery. What ended up was a 14-hour hostage situation that was broadcast on TV and the inspiration for the film Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino. Intercut between footage from the 1970s and the present day, the documentary explores John's role in New York's gay liberation movement, the robbery itself and his life after prison.

Uneven doco lifts the lid on a contradictory character.

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Al Pacino fans might have a hard time distinguishing actual footage from the Brooklyn bank robbery masterminded by John Wojtowicz (pronounced water-witz) from the star’s performance in Dog Day Afternoon. Because Wojtowicz’s 1972 robbery, hostage-taking, and escape-convoy fiasco was so heavily documented, Pacino and Dog Day Afternoon director Sidney Lumet were able to recreate the 18-hour ordeal rather faithfully. The Dog, directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, suggests that Lumet’s film had a boggling effect on Wojtowicz himself. Shot over the final years of Wojtowicz’s life (and 10 years in the making), The Dog presents a man whose life played out as a series of crises—of appetite, contradiction, and identity.

a man whose life played out as a series of crises—of appetite, contradiction, and identity.

Wojtowicz contains multitudes—just ask him. 'I consider myself a romantic," is the first of many self-declamations. 'Remember, I’m a pervert," he then explains, theorising that his massive and omnivorous sexual appetite made up for a general lack of vice. 'I’m like Prudential, I’m a rock—I give a piece of myself to everyone." Wojtowicz describes having his first gay experience while deployed in Vietnam. Though he married and had children soon after returning, he continued having gay relationships throughout his life, including with the transgendered man who called himself Liz Eden, whose desire for a costly sex change operation inspired Wojtowicz’s bank robbing plans. 'I’m like a gay Babe Ruth," Wojtowicz crows of his beating the rap for robbery, the kidnapping of several terrified bank employees and customers, and the death of his co-conspirator. 'I’m a male chauvinist pig, and I’m the boss," he declares later still, at which point the viewer might give the nod usually reserved for day-drinking bullshit artists: Okaaaaay.

If Wojtowicz was all those things, he also fit a reporter’s late 1970s description: 'One of the most celebrated losers of recent times." In the wake of Dog Day Afternoon, which came out when Wojtowicz was still in prison, before a fellow inmate (and lover) found a way to secure him early release, Wojtowicz became 'The Dog." (A perfect detail reveals that Wojtowicz and his bumbling co-conspirators watched Pacino’s Godfather for motivation, and even used a line from the film on their stick-up note.) Living in a halfway house a couple doors down from Studio 54, Wojtowicz capitalised on his crime, signing autographs in front of the bank in an 'I ROBBED THIS BANK" T-shirt. Archival photographs and news footage depict the beginnings of the erosion between news and entertainment, conditions in which cults of rather idiotic personality are known to flourish.

Berg and Keraudren maintain inconsistent control over the tone of their portrait, which occasionally indulges in the same rubbernecking glee exhibited by those who watched Wojtowicz put on his robbery performance art. 'It was like funny, you know?" one bystander says of Wojtowicz’s antics. He ordered pizza to the bank, throwing tip money into the street; he received visitors, including his mother, and a boyfriend whom he tongue-kissed in view of the many news cameras. Wojtowicz, a dying man for a portion of the filming, does not appear to be in on the joke, and often the viewer may not feel like laughing. Are we meant to snicker when he brags of raping a young man the night before the robbery?

Wojtowicz’s most remarkable contradiction—here was a macho, Brooklyn-born, Italian mama’s boy who was also an unashamed lover of women, men, and every combination in between—feels underexplored. Wojtowicz spent some time in the gay rights movement, participating in an action at a marriage license bureau before he staged his own, elaborate wedding to Liz Eden. But the gay community soon distanced itself from the violent bisexual with the big mouth. So until the end it was not the veteran or the gay activist or even the ex-con, but 'The Dog," a reference to the performance that in its fictions may have captured Wojtowicz best.


1 hour 40 min