Photo credit: Drafthouse Films
Sometimes a movie becomes so iconic that you forget real people lived and breathed its narrative. Dog Day Afternoon is such a movie. Starring Al Pacino as a man who attempts to rob a bank to pay for his lover’s gender confirmation surgery, the 1975 classic blew open a closet door in mainstream cinema. Pacino’s character, Sonny, was based on John Wojtowicz, a puzzling figure who served six years in prison for his own attempted robbery, which led to a 14-hour, live broadcast hostage situation in 1972.
Now, four decades later, Wojtowicz’s story is being told again in The Dog, an astonishing, rollicking new documentary in which he reveals himself to be a gleefully profane subject. “He liked to test people,” says filmmaker Allison Berg. “He was a larger-than-life character whether the camera was on or off.” Case in point: When Wojtowicz met Berg and The Dog’s other director, Frank Keraudren, he sucked her finger and grabbed his crotch. “He was clearly obsessed sexually, but so aware of it,” says Keraudren. “There was some- thing about his openness that made it OK.”
The film’s highlights are legion, from Wojtowicz’s tales of voracious affairs with men and women and his experience in the gay liberation movement to in-depth footage of his former squeeze, Liz Eden, whose transition not only inspired Dog Day Afternoon but was made possible by its financial success. Berg and Keraudren shot The Dog over 12 years and interviewed Wojtowicz until the day before his death in 2006. “It’s a story of the time,” says Berg, “of characters who are disappearing, who disappeared while we made the film. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
The Dog is released in select theaters Aug. 8. Watch the trailer below: