By Christie Robb
Hollywood is captivated by bank robbers: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Patty Hearst, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…
And John Wojtowicz, aka the Dog.
Not familiar? He’s the inspiration for the 1975 Al Pacino movie Dog Day Afternoon.
The Gateway Film Center is showing the latest of three documentaries on Wojtowicz, The Dog, starting Friday, August 22nd—the 42nd anniversary of the day Wojtowicz robbed a Chase Manhattan bank in order to finance his partner’s sex change operation.
The documentary offers the perspective of the progressively ailing Wojtowicz as well as those of his “wives” (both female and male), mother, eye witnesses, hostages, reporters, and gay rights activists. Directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren position Wojtowicz in the context of the burgeoning gay liberation movement, reminding the viewer how eye-opening this event was to many of the television viewers and local bystanders who watched the robbery and subsequent hostage negotiation unfold live. The Stonewall Riots had only happened three years previously.
Wojtowicz gave a good performance during the robbery—threating to beat up police for calling him a faggot, visiting with his adoring mother, having pizza delivered to the bank, throwing thousands of dollars out of the door, and French kissing a man at the bank threshold while still holding hostages. Wojtowicz was primed for theatricality; he went to a screening of The Godfather to psych himself up for the robbery.
And Wojtowicz, gives a good performance here. He describes himself both as a “romantic” and a “pervert” and narrates events leading up to the robbery and his life in its aftermath with a jovial demeanor that often jars with his subject matter. Several times I had to blink and process what just happened. (Is he narrating a butcher knife suicide attempt while smiling and wearing a puffer coat? Did he just offer a blowjob to a walrus?)
Berg and Keraudren leave it up to the audience to form their own conclusions about Wojtowicz. Romantic, willing to face prison to make his partner’s dream come true, as he maintains? Controlling, chauvinistic, sex addict, as interviews with his partners make it seem? A man clinging to his 15 minutes of fame? An ex-con with limited options, making a buck off the crime that prevents him from following his preferred career path in finance?
His story is indeed captivating and probably worth giving him another 15 minutes of fame.