Movie Review - The Dog

This documentary reminded me of a documentary from last year. The Dog has some passing similarities to My Amityville Horror. The comparisons are superficial, but here I go. Both documentaries are about men whose lives were the subjects of major Hollywood movies that came out in the 1970's. Both men are from New York. One lives in Queens. The other lived in Brooklyn. Both have very strong and very engaging personalities. Deeper analysis however shows the two men are quite divergent.

The Dog profiles John Wojtowicz, the man who robbed a Brooklyn bank in 1972 in order to get money to pay for his boyfriend's sex-change operation. This story was of course the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Al Pacino portrayed Sonny, the character based on Wojtowicz. This documentary by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren is the third such about Wojtowicz, except the focus is less on the incident that made him famous but more on his love and family life, before and especially after the bank robbery.

My Amityville Horror interviews Danny Lutz, the guy whose experience inspired the Hollywood horror franchise The Amityville Horror (1979). That documentary is more about the incident and less about Lutz's personal life. Unlike Wojtowicz, Lutz was underage at the time of his incident, so fame was kept away from him. Lutz ran from and avoided the spotlight for the most part. Until the release of My Amityville Horror, it's doubtful anyone knew what Lutz even looked like, outside his small circle in Queens.

Wojtowicz is the opposite. He loved the spotlight. He loved the celebrity. He wasn't searching for fame, but when so much attention, particularly from the media, descended upon him during the bank robbery and for decades afterward, Wojtowicz embraced it, took control of it and eventually ate it up. Watching him be interviewed in his 50's for this documentary, it's clear he is comfortable in front of the camera and has a strong screen presence that can hold its or anyone's fascination. He's charismatic and certainly magnetic a person. Plus, he's so open and honest about everything.

The reason he's so famous is because of his honesty, starting with the bank robbery where he openly admitted why he was doing it. He didn't have to admit it, but, from the beginning he didn't hide or was shy about the fact that he robbed the bank to get the tens of thousands needed for his boyfriend's sex-change operation.

Yes, Wojtowicz is gay. He says he has only one vice. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't drink. He doesn't do drugs or gamble. He simply likes to have sex with men. Even though he's a self-proclaimed pervert, he behaves as if he's proud to be gay, and, aside from being a great character study, The Dog is also a radical slice of the gay rights movement in New York, post-Stonewall.

No matter what you might think about Wojtowicz, he was always motivated by love. Even though he's honest about his promiscuity via the Christopher Street Park, he was strangely family-oriented and traditional. He loved being married. He was in fact married three or four times. Only the first time was to a woman, Carmen Bifulco who is interviewed here.

Berg and Keraudren are also able to give a real idea of who these people who Wojtowicz loved are. All of whom had passionate and very contentious relationships with this bold man. All of whom are interesting and outstanding. None was more memorable than Ernest Aron, the transsexual who became Liz Eden for whom Wojtowicz robbed the bank. Berg and Keraudren really capture the plight and pressure of being a transsexual in that time.

The movie does show the backlash against Wojtowicz's celebrity and doesn't overlook the damage he's done. Yet, he's a man with no regrets and would do it all over again. It's up to the audience to decide that if you were in his shoes, would you similarly have no regrets.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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