Fascinating, funny, and occasionally shocking, The Dog is a documentary portrait of the late John Wojtowicz (1945-2006), whose 1972 attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank inspired the film Dog Day Afternoon. Sidney Lumet’s 1975 drama about an everyday Joe (Al Pacino) who commits the crime in order to finance his lover’s sex-change operation is still affecting, but the narrative seems rather ordinary after hearing from Wojtowicz himself.

A straight-up Brooklyn Italian American, Wojtowicz proudly declares himself a pervert. A loud alpha-male, he doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, but he loves sex, and is unapologetically bisexual. Wojtowicz doesn’t hold back, regularly dropping F-bombs, and telling it as he sees it. Charismatic and a gifted storyteller, he’s clearly excited to prosvide his version of events. While he had once been a Goldwater Republican, served in Vietnam, and had a wife and children, Wojtowicz had spent the majority of his life in the gay community, proud and impervious to the insults of outsiders.

Filmed over a decade, filmmakers Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren managed to obtain archival video of gay rights meetings that Wojtowicz attended, images from Wojtowicz and Ernest Aron’s wedding (the man whose sex change instigated the robbery), raw footage from the robbery itself, and even an interview with Aron just before her sex change.

While Wojtowicz certainly deserves credit for being an early LGBT activist, he was also a big jerk. For all his bragging, he never once shows any sympathy for the hostage he held at gunpoint during the bank robbery. It’s abundantly clear that Wojtowicz loves himself, but he seems oblivious to the effect his actions might have had on others. In archival footage he’s shown post-prison, standing outside the bank with a t-shirt saying “I robbed this bank.” He talks about the various death threats that Aron received with the same small smile that crosses his lips when he discusses absolutely anything.

The interviews reveal a man who never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The numerous lovers in his life are far more grounded in reality than he ever was. His first wife—the lone female—and one of the three male brides share their memories, and as one comes to expect, their stories rarely match Wojtowicz’s. Whether he was a compulsive liar, or just came to believe his own legend, who knows. Nonetheless, the guy is fascinating to watch. The film covers him at three very different stages of his life. In the second stage, he has been diagnosed with cancer and, in the third, he’s nearly unrecognizable, but the braggadocio remains. The Dog makes an interesting companion piece to Dog Day Afternoon, and may leave viewers feeling differently about the seminal film.

Like most archival documentaries, The Dog includes footage from several different sources, including video, film (in both black and white), and digital. As such, the presentation quality is not to be considered consistent. Presented in 1080p in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio (mislabeled on the case as 2.35:1), the video footage is quite flat, while the newer interviews shot in HD are a tad noisy (likely due to the fact that most are shot in darker areas).The ‘newer’ footage of Wojtowicz himself shows evidence of edge enhancement, and exhibits uneven colors. While dirt and artifacts are evident throughout, the HD really shines when it comes to the high resolution photographs sprinkled throughout the proceedings.

The Dolby Surround track serves the film well, providing perfectly clear dialogue in the newer footage, and a little rougher in the old.

English SDH subtitles are included

The following extras are available:

  • Commentary with directors Allison Berg & Frank Keraudren, moderated by Toronto International Film Festival film curator, Thom Powers (no relation) – The filmmakers discuss the ten-year process of making The Dog. The directors share plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, including moving away from talking about Lumet’s movie, Wojtowicz’ difficult personality, contacting the other people involved with the story, discovering the archival footage, and material that didn’t make the final cut.
  • 14 Deleted/Extended Scenes (40:30) For the most part, this is further footage of Wojtowicz discussing various aspects of his life, but it also includes uncut versions of the Wojtowicz/Aron wedding video and interview with Aron (under the name Liz Eden).
  • Trailers for other Drafthouse Films releases.