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Life Imitates Art: The Dog
by Mary Nyiri

The 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon directed by Sidney Lumet was nominated for six Oscars and Frank Pierson won the Oscar for Writing-Original Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture (Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand), Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Al Pacino), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Chris Sarandon), Best Film Editing (Dede Allen) and for seven Golden Globes. The film was inspired by the true life story of John Wojtowicz (played by Al Pacino), a bi-sexual man who tried robbing a bank in Brooklyn, New York in 1972 to get money for his lover’s sex change operation.

The documentary about John Wojtowicz, titled The Dog in reference to the nickname Wojtowicz liked to call himself, presents the true-life story of Wojtowicz chock full of old photos, film clips, pictures, interviews and cross references to Dog Day Afternoon. There is no need whatsoever to have ever seen the Hollywood film because the real-life story and the charismatic Wojtowicz present a film that stands entirely on its own fascinating personalities and true facts. 

Filmed over the course of ten years, Wojtowicz is completely open about his obsession with sex and his varied relationships including wives and lovers, male and female. He is at times totally lovable and loving, violent and manipulative, self-destructive, but almost always humorous. He talks about his time during the Vietnam War, his first marriage to Carmen Bifulco in 1967 (they had two children together) and how he came to be involved sexually with men. In 1971 he met Ernest Aron. Their relationship was volatile, to say the least. They had a public wedding ceremony in 1971. During the seventies Wojtowicz was active in New York’s gay liberation movement and the film provides some historical background.

Throughout all of Wojtowicz’ life changes, his mother Terry was there for him and her interviews over the course of filming are truly captivating. Other extraordinary insights come from Bifulco, Aron (using old television interviews) and various friends. Wojtowicz is himself a master story teller and his explanation of the bank robbery, how they stopped at other banks first, how they got to the Brooklyn bank, interspersed with real-time news footage of the events as they unfolded, adds depth and character that goes beyond the simple plot line of the Hollywood film. He gets emotional when he discusses the actual robbery and the loss of his friend Salvatore Naturale. In 1973 he was sentenced to 20 years in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary but was paroled after serving just five years, only to be rearrested for violating parole in 1986. He did actually help finance Aron’s sex change operation with money earned from selling the movie rights to his story. The documentary is part love story and part self-tribute that entertains throughout. The Dog may well seduce you.