The Dog

Bank robber John Wojtowicz

Bank robber John Wojtowicz

Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)

Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975)

“The Dog” is one of the best documentaries I have seen in quite some time. The film covers everything you could possibly want to know about the famous (or should I say “infamous?”) “Dog Day Afternoon” bank robber, and hostage taker, John Wojtowicz, immortalized by Al Pacino in director Sidney Lumet’s brilliant, scorching, 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon.” It is also a fascinating and highly entertaining documentary, to be enjoyed even if you have not seen “Dog Day Afternoon.”

However, if you love “Dog Day Afternoon” the way I do (and I’ve been a fan ever since seeing it at the age of 13 – my God, what were my parents thinking?) “The Dog” is a fascinating and compelling compendium of things we know, and many things we do not know, about the actual events that transpired before, during and long after that blistering hot afternoon of August 22, 1972, in Brooklyn, when two men held up a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Watching “The Dog,” it is very interesting to see how much of the story “Dog Day Afternoon” got right. I had the privilege of seeing Lumet speak on many occasions. He always said that the story telling emphasis in “Dog Day Afternoon” was on the fact that this event really happened.

As I have said many times in this blog, it is just as important for a documentary to have great characters as it is for a narrative film to have them. To that end, Wojtowicz pays off in spades, proving to be an irreverent, funny raconteur, from his opening comments straight through to the film’s end. He is frank, unapologetic and matter-of-fact about his life and his famous robbery. As for the fact that the police showed up, turning what was supposed to be a quick robbery into a prolonged hostage situation, Wojtowicz explains, “Whenever you see bank robbery movies they go ‘we only got a minute.’ Now you know why.” He is only to be matched by his mother Terry and first wife Carmen Bifulco, both of whom recall their experiences on that fateful day, as well as their views on, and relationships with, Wojtowicz.

Directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren have fashioned a narrative that charges ahead swiftly and efficiently. In addition to the interviews with with Wojtowicz, Terry and Carmen, “The Dog” also includes archival interviews with Ernest Aron/Liz Eden (Wojtowicz’s lover for whom he committed the robbery in order to get money for his/her sex change operation), “Daily News” reporter Robert Kapstatter (who conducted a telephone interview with Wojtowicz during the event), former hostage Santa Strazella, local Brooklyn residents who were part of the huge crowd of onlookers witnessing the event, gay activist and journalist Randy Wicker and others.

“The Dog” has been brilliantly edited by Keraudren. He has seamlessly incorporated these interviews with archival TV news coverage, including shots of the actual hostage situation, still photos, early video journalism, home movie and home video footage, plus stock footage of New York in the 1970s. Keraudren even takes us back to the early days of Manhattan cable TV with a clip from the down and dirty, zero production values of Channel J, featuring an interview with Wojtowicz and Eden shot years after the robbery.   “The Dog” also shows us the early days of the gay rights movement in New York, from the point of view of GAA (Gay Activist Alliance).

“The Dog” is one of those stories in which the truth is far stranger than fiction can ever be. It features characters and situations that no one could make up, all skillfully presented as part of a mosaic of New York at a certain time. I cannot get enough of this story and am hoping for even more footage on the eventual DVD.

“The Dog” will be available on VOD (video on demand) starting on August 15. As of this posting it was playing at IFC Center, 323 6 Ave., at West 3rd Street and at Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on August 13, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Compelling documentary, compelling review: parallel process in action!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • unpaidfilmcritic

      Ahhh, this must be the imposter!  My Doppleganger with something positive to say about me!?  Ho, ho, ho (and that’s not a Michael Gold reference).

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