Film and TV

The Dog Offers a Compelling Portrait of a Complex Personality

John Wojtowicz may be the perfect embodiment of Maslow's ideal of self-actualization. The inspiration for Al Pacino's character in Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon and now subject of Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren's fascinating documentary The Dog, Wojtowicz was many things: soldier, bank robber, libertine, and both "Goldwater Republican" and "McCarthy peacenik." Through it all, however, he was a lover. And it was his love of Ernest Aron (later Elizabeth Eden) that spurred him to realize, in his own words, "On August 22, 1972, I had to do something." That "something" was robbing a Brooklyn branch of Chase Manhattan with accomplices Sal Naturale and (briefly) Robert Westenberg. Fifteen hours later, Naturale was dead and Wojtowicz was in custody, facing a twenty-year sentence. Notoriety followed with Lumet's 1975 film, but Wojtowicz was barely heard from in the ensuing thirty years, and he died of cancer in 2006 at age sixty. Taken on their own, those events would add up to a pretty impressive legacy. But what makes The Dog so compelling isn't Wojtowicz's cinematic imprint, but the place in history that was very likely denied him by chance and his own irascibility. Berg and Keraudren spent ten years making The Dog, interviewing Carmen, the first of his four wives (if you take Wojtowicz at his word, always a risky proposition); his mother, Terry; journalists; former colleagues in the gay-rights movement; and one of his former hostages. The portrait that emerges is one of a vulgar opportunist, true, but also of someone who came that close to much wider notoriety.

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Pete Vonder Haar is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group. VMG publications include Denver Westword, Miami New Times, Phoenix New Times, Dallas Observer, Houston Press and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.