Originally published on So So Gay on 10 November 2014.
‘Anybody can be straight, but it takes someone special to be gay,’ states John Wojtowicz, the straight-talking but surprisingly charming man behind the famous Chase Manhattan Bank robbery that inspired the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, which starred Al Pacino as the character based on John. Driven by a desire to help his lover, Ernest Aron, get gender-reassignment surgery, Wojtowicz was an unconventional criminal who was motivated by altruistic reasons, but was eventually captured and sent to jail.
Originally making its debut last September at the Toronto Film Festival, The Dog is 10 years in the making and impressively charts the build-up to the events of 1972 that made Wojtowicz infamous, as well as the aftermath and his subsequent incarceration. Full of contemporary material to help flesh out the tale spun by natural storyteller John, it’s a comprehensive and vibrant portrait of the very human story behind the crime. Producers and directors François Keraudren and Allison Berg have crafted a superior documentary that never gets sidetracked or bogged down, and gives the audience a behind the scenes look at the real-life crime that inspired a blockbuster movie.
Not only a fascinating record of the engaging character behind the bank heist that captured America’s attention, The Dog also shines a light on the colourful cast of characters that surrounded him, thanks to both new interviews with (at the time) surviving players and previously recorded audio and video interviews with those since deceased. John’s late mother, Theresa, is a particular delight to hear, and who obviously loved her son dearly but also saw him for the man that he was.
Equal parts amusing storytelling and informative asides about the early years of the LGBT movement, The Dog is ultimately a poignant reminder that life is short – a fact underlined by Wojtowicz’s shocking visual deterioration captured here, due to the cancer that ultimately claimed his life in 2006 – and that, law-breaking activities aside, we could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of John’s book:
‘Life is too short, so there is no ‘no’. I say you wanna do something, do it. Don’t let anybody tell you ‘You can’t do this, you can’t be that; you’re no good, you’re rotten’. Whatever they say… fuck them! Do what you wanna do, because tomorrow you could be dead. So live every day as if it’s your last… and whoever don’t like it can go fuck themselves with a rubber duck!’
The Dog played as part of the 2014 Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Festival on 9 November. Assets courtesy Fringe!.