The Dog directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren follows the infamous John Wojtowicz, self-nicknamed the Dog who was the real life inspiration for the film Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino. To recap the story, John robbed a Brooklyn bank one steamy day in August of 1972 in order to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation. The whole ordeal lasted throughout the day and night, received national attention and arguably cast a grim cloud over the gay rights movement which was in its early development.
A self-professed pervert, male chauvinist pig, and any other term one can think of to further embed him into the pejorative, Wojtowicz recounts his life and early sexual exploits from coercing men and women into sex to being a victim of rape himself, all of it peppered with domestic violence, and he claims no regrets, in fact he revels in his past behavior-both good and mostly just terrible.
Through interviews with friends, family, and associates, Berg and Keraudren blow the dust off the colorful Wojtowicz whose heyday began and ended in the seventies if he ever had one. The Dog isn’t just a documentary about the events that lead to that eventful day in 1972, but probes the engendering gay rights movement of that time, and the general cultural climate of seventies era New York, including the hot-spots of homosexual promiscuity for which Wotjowicz was practically a mascot. It is a lesser known facet of the cultural movement historically overshadowed by the following decade’s AIDS crisis. This was when the movement had soldiers who were spearheaded by the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Looking at their early fights circa the Stonewall riots, we get a clear picture of how far the movement has come. News footage from that time shows how dismissive and offensive the reporting was of gay activists. They weren’t seen as people but as creatures labelled “homosexuals,” a word almost sneered aloud as if they were lepers reeking havoc in the community. So, when the story broke of one of these recreants robbing a bank in order to pay for something considered abhorrently unnatural, the backlash was harsh, and felt mostly by Wojtowicz himself who was ostracized by an already shunned community.
Did he learn anything from his time in prison or of the ramifications of his life choices? The answer is a resounding “NO.” Completely unapologetic and indelicate about any of his actions, Wojtowicz wishes he could do it all again calling himself “the gay Babe Ruth” because in his words he “beat the system.”
This story is about survival, not just his, but those around him. Survival of the changing era. Rewards and retaliation for attempting to eke out validity in American culture.
What we can take away from The Dog is that relevance diminishes no matter who you are. Here we have Wojtowicz who was instrumental in bringing gay activism to the forefront of civil rights, but has since been dismissed as a lunatic from whom the gay community has kept its distance. Wojtowicz is left living off contrived laurels long since withered away by time and ambivalence. It reminds me of the epilogue quote in Barry Lyndon, “It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”