|Reviews & Columns|
TV on DVD
Reviews by Studio
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
The M.O.D. Squad
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search|
Customer Service #'s
It's beyond a doubt that Dog Day Afternoon is a timeless masterpiece that revolutionized the bank robbery genre and is one of the most important works of 70s American cinema, thought by many, myself included, to be the greatest period in film history. Considering Sidney Lumet is one of my top five favorite directors and Dog Day Afternoon is my second favorite film of his (Network will always be number one), it's safe to assume that I've seen it more than once.
A self-financed labor of love that took eleven years to complete, directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren's The Dog tells the true story from the mouth of John Wojtowicz, the inspiration for Al Pacino's character in Dog Day Afternoon. Since every frame of Lumet's film is pretty much ingrained in even the more casual film fan's mind, Berg and Keraudren cleverly focus on the events that led to the real-life robbery as well as the years that followed it.
What we already know from Lumet's classic is that in 1972, Wojtowicz attempted to rob a bank in New York City in order to raise enough money to pay for his husband's sex change operation. His partner in crime Sal (Brilliantly portrayed by John Cazale in the film) was killed by the FBI and Wojtowicz was caught and sent to jail.
The Dog sports a very clean-cut three-act structure. The first act focuses on the events that led to the robbery. Wojtowicz is described by those who knew him, as well as by himself, as a full-on sex addict, the very personification of Dennis Hopper's most famous line from Blue Velvet (No, not the one about Heineken). While still married to a woman, he came out as gay, joined the gay rights movement, and even married a man who would later become a woman named Liz Eden (Who looks exactly like Chris Sarandon, pre and post-op. Great piece of casting there from Dog Day Afternoon).
The first act manages to present a separate mini-documentary about the gay rights movement during the early seventies as a surprising amount of video footage taken during that time as well as candid interviews from activists from the period create a vivid image of the community's painful struggles to be accepted as equals.
Even though Wojtowicz doesn't want Liz to have a sex change operation, because he wanted to be with a man and already had a woman in his life, he finally relents after Liz falls under a deep depression and becomes suicidal enough to be committed into a mental institution. In fact, he does such a 180 on this issue, he grabs two of his friends to commit the robbery so his partner can get the operation and finally be happy.
What happens next is what we know from Lumet's film. The Dog's superb editing does a great job of capturing the tension of the real robbery while intercutting news footage from the fateful day as well as new and vintage interviews from those involved. The third act is about the aftermath of the robbery as Wojtowicz takes up yet another male partner and tries to capitalize on his infamy by posing for pictures and signing autographs in front of the bank he robbed.
A tiny moment during the late 70s news segment about Wojtowicz's newfound fame tells us everything we need to know about media's odd fascination with criminals. As Wojtowicz takes pictures with his fans in front of the bank, one of his actual hostages from the robbery stands a couple of feet away from the man who once threatened her life and confesses to the news crew that she doesn't understand why the man who once caused her and others so much grief is being now celebrated by so many.
What makes The Dog so special is that most of the story is told from point-of-view of The Dog himself. Wojtowicz is a fascinating figure who delivers instant documentary gold every time he opens his mouth. He's friendly and endearing, as well as abrasive and incredibly self-centered. It's a treat to watch him say outlandish things in incredibly honest and matter-of-fact ways, like the time he forced his robbery partner to sleep with him. Yet he also doesn't look like a man you'd want to personally spend more than five minutes with
The Dog is mostly a hodgepodge of vintage news material and home videos from the 70s, so a strict modern standard for resolution and clarity should not be on the viewer's mind. For example, a big chunk of the first act is told through black-and-white amateur video footage taken during gay activism meetings. No amount digital noise reduction can fix the muddy look of an early 70s videotape. The more contemporary interview footage is mostly from the early-to-middle 2000s, and while obviously shot in HD, doesn't have the clarity and resolution newer digital cameras. Of course, none of this is the filmmakers' fault, they had to make due with what they had in order to tell this extraordinary story. The film's 1080p transfer stays loyal to every source material presented in the film and deserves a pat in the back just for that.
Even though The Dog comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 track, it may as well have been in 3.0. I could not sense a single occasion of surround presence during the film. The interviews are mixed clearly and as excellently as possible, especially considering the variety of old sources. The occasional use of music comes subtly from the front speakers. All in all, the track is not very impressive but is an appropriate audio presentation for such a low-budget documentary.
Deleted Scenes: We get a whopping 40-minutes of discarded scenes, almost half the running time of the feature itself. Most of the scenes are from the more recent interviews and present some extra insights into the subjects' lives. There's also footage that I'm pretty sure weren't supposed to be included in the finished film in the first place, like Wojtowicz and Liz's wedding ceremony and various vintage interviews in full. The most fascinating sequence shows Wojtowicz attending an art installation showing a split-screen of him recreating the robbery next to footage from Dog Day Afternoon.
Audio Commentary by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren: This is an extremely informative commentary that should be checked out by all fans of the film. The directors give further insight into their main subject, including the fact that he blatantly hit on every single member of the crew, as well as inadvertently constructing a crash course in how to put together a self-financed documentary.
We also get some Trailers for other Alamo Drafthouse releases.
The Dog is the perfect stranger-than-fiction documentary about the life of a fascinating man who was equal parts narcissistic monster, passionate lover, misguided anti-culture revolutionary and unapologetic crusader for truth and happiness. It manages to become a perfect companion piece for Dog Day Afternoon as well as a modern documentary classic that stands on its own feet.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com