Review: ‘The Dog’ led more than a bank robbery Special

Posted Aug 15, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
‘The Dog’ is the compelling and blunt portrait of an alpha male who gained notoriety when he attempted to rob a bank to finance his lover’s sex-reassignment surgery in 1972.
John Wojtowicz in front of The Chase Manhattan Bank  which he attempted to rob in 1972  in  The Dog
John Wojtowicz in front of The Chase Manhattan Bank, which he attempted to rob in 1972, in 'The Dog'
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Sometimes real-life is better than fiction. Not many could write a better character than John Wojtowicz, a.k.a. "Little John Basso," a.k.a. "The Dog." He was outspoken, arrogant and determined to get what he wanted until his dying day. Dog Day Afternoon, which was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for original screenplay, presented a snapshot of Wojtowicz’s life that does not do the man justice. The Dog is a documentary that attempts to capture just some of his charisma while chronicling his time before and after the infamous robbery.
Wojtowicz's early years were fairly commonplace. He had a conventional childhood, got married and was drafted to the military. Strangely enough, it was his experience in the service that would broaden his sexual horizons. Upon returning, he was not willing to leave behind his new desires. He eventually divorced and became a regular fixture in The Village. Though it wasn’t all just casual sex — Wojtowicz played a significant role in the local gay movement. After falling for Ernie (who would later be known as Liz), Wojtowicz would marry for the second time and make history as one of the first same-sex couples to legally do so. It’s this relationship that would motivate the bank robbery that would make international news since Wojtowicz claimed the money was meant to fund Ernie’s sex-reassignment surgery. In prison he found and married “wife” No. 3. Upon his release six years later, Wojtowicz got his 15 minutes of fame.
Filmed over the course of 10 years by co-directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, they conduct incredibly candid interviews with Wojtowicz, who doesn’t hold back. Interwoven with fading photographs, exceptional archival footage from the robbery, and 70s-era recordings and interviews shot during New York’s early gay liberation movement. Carrying most of the documentary on his shoulders, Wojtowicz’s larger-than-life personality is more than entertaining enough to keep audiences engaged in his cinematic biography. Over the course of the picture, it becomes clear he never shied away from attention.
Even by the libertine standards of the 60s and 70s, Wojtowicz had a voracious libido. He had countless lovers, both male and female. Though he enjoyed anonymous sex, he was also a romantic when it came to partners for whom he really cared. Frequent phone calls, dozens of roses and fancy dinners were all a part of his courting ritual. And though he claims Ernie/Liz was his true love, friends suspect it was actually his mother who he was very close to you. His father remained on the sidelines in their household, but Wojtowicz’s mother was a constant supporter. Based on interviews, even in her advanced age one can see she must have been a pistol herself. His constant need for a marriage partner was indicative of Wojtowicz also being a dedicated family man who not only adored his mother but cared deeply for an ill sibling.
The film concludes with Wojtowicz’s death in 2006 from cancer. But even in the advanced stages of the disease, he remained as bold as ever. Berg and Keraudren successfully deliver an entertaining doc about a fascinating man who earned his place in the canon by hook or crook.
Directors: Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren