On August 22, 1972 John Wojtowicz robbed a Chase Manhattan bank in Brooklyn. It would become one of the most televised and celebrated robberies in New York City history. There was nothing special about the bank, nothing special about the robber’s methods, none of the hostages were harmed. It was the reason; Wojtowicz wanted the cash to pay for his lover’s sex change operation. He didn’t succeed and was sentenced to 20 years. While in prison a movie was made about the event, you might have seen it already, Dog Day Afternoon. The film would win the Oscar in 1976 for best screenplay and nabbed Al Pacino one of his many post-Godfather Oscar noms.
Decades later directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren would interview Wojtowicz and many other people involved in his life and the details surrounding the robbery, creating The Dog. Berg and Keraudren definitely seem to approach this documentary with a sense of honest curiosity, since it neither portrays Wojtowicz as villain nor folk hero, as was apparently done in the 70’s. I too was honestly curious since I had seen Dog Day Afternoon but had no idea it was based on an actual robbery.
Wojtowicz comes across as a splendid mess of a man; self-aggrandizing, exaggerated with a delusional sense of self-confidence and a stream of foul language that could melt steel. Yet, there is still an honest undercurrent running through his diatribes that resonates with the human spirit. One which accepts that people do weird and ultimately destructive crap but they think its the right thing at the time – and that’s how life goes.
Wojtowicz was gay and it surprised me that a large portion of this documentary was dedicated to his involvement with the gay rights movement in NYC during the late 60’s; interesting archive footage was restored, as best they could, and interleaved though out.
While the events that inspired Dog Day Afternoon were certainly odd, they unquestionably pair well with the rest of his life. He was not destined to fit into the middle of distribution curve, nor did he make any attempt. A cast-iron New Yorker, a criminal, married with children, gay, soldier, Republican and activist; its hard to soak in the many conflicting facets. He’s gone now but I think he summed up the sentiment in his interview – ‘ I did it, I don’t regret it and, fuck it, I would do it exactly the same again.’
Totally entertaining watch but do yourself a favor and watch Dog Day Afternoon first so you have context.