Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Dog: He Had His Day

It was late in the Lindsay administration. New York really was becoming the grungy crime-ridden vice pit largely sustained by attitude people remember with such strange fondness. John Wojtowicz helped paint that picture. True, there is more to his story than the ill-fated bank robbery immortalized in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, but there is no getting around that notorious incident in Brooklyn. Wojtowicz speaks for posterity (and he is not shy about it) in Allison Berg & Frank Keraudren’s The Dog (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

For the record, Wojtowicz did his time in Lewistown, not Attica. Arguably, he was a something of a gay marriage pioneer, wedding his lover Ernest Aron (subsequently known as Liz Debbie Eden) in a Catholic-aping ceremony. It was a troubled union, mostly because of Aron’s discomfort living as a man. Initially, Wojtowicz opposed the gender re-assignment surgery, but he eventually relented. Of course, that would cost money. Recruiting two accomplices from the scene, Wojtowicz hatched a very half-baked plan.

The late Wojtowicz (adopting the moniker of “The Dog”) sounds every bit the tough talking, unapologetic New Yorker viewers would expect. His interviews dominate Berg & Keraudren’s film, for obvious reasons. They also evoke plenty of the era’s seedy atmosphere, while documenting the early years of New York gay activism. It definitely has value as a time capsule, but it does little to burnish Lindsay’s reputation.

In addition to Wojtowicz, Berg & Keraudren talk to nearly all of the surviving principles, including his first “legal” wife, Carmen Bifulco, and George Heath, the third wife Wojtowicz met in prison. Clearly, the man was not shy or commitment phobic. Unfortunately, Eden and Lindsay have long since passed.

Berg & Keraudren keep the pacing brisk, never getting overly fixated on any particular tribulation. While the film holds unmistakable GLBT interest, it should also appeal to true crime audiences. Recommended for old school New York nostalgics, The Dog opens this Friday (8/8) in New York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center uptown and the IFC Center downtown.