Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Dog (2013)

If you think you know what happened during the infamous DOG DAY AFTERNOON standoff of August 22,1972 because you saw the film forget it. You don’t know anything. Likewise it’s unlikely that you know what the real story is of John Wojtowicz who was portrayed by Al Pacino. The truth is something much more complex and in a way fantastic.

The Dog was Wojtowicz‘s nickname. It’s not clear where he got the name, perhaps it had something to do with his need for sex, or his looks (one person called him a troll).Wojtowicz grew up in a typical Italian family in Brooklyn. He drove his mother crazy by doing whatever it was he wanted to do. When he was about 20 he met his future first wife. The relationship was kind of doomed from the start since they were forbidden to marry until he came back from Vietnam-his future in-laws hoping he’d come home in a body bag. It only got worse when on the day of the ceremony the priest tried to get the marriage annulled because Wojtowicz and his father in law got into a fight as to who was going to pay for the wedding. From their things got stranger as Wojtowicz ended up in the village and in the middle of the gay rights movement (and gay marriage). In no way was this what I was expecting based on my having seen Dog Day. I know I didn’t have an inkling as to what happened after.

Actually the problem with the film, if you could call it a problem, is that the tale of Wojtowicz's life is not what you’d expect, even if you know it, when you watch the film a second time you still expect things to go differently than they do. The only bits that are as expected is the robbery parts, but what lead up to it and where things went after are very different. That’s both a great thing because it opens our eyes to something new and truly extraordinary, but it’s kind of bad because you’re forced to reassess our protagonist and wonder who the hell was this guy-even to the point of wondering why am I watching this.

Further strangeness is the result of the long gestation of the film. Wojtowicz died of cancer in 2006 but the film was clearly in production long before that since we watch as he goes from plump man to emaciated wreck. I kind of wished I had seen the film earlier than I did so I could have taken part in the press day since watching the film I’m left to wonder how did this film come together and why did it take so long. It might have had to do with having to wait until Terry, Wojtowicz's, mom passed since she talks openly about family secrets.

This film will haunt you. I normally write up a film as close to seeing it as I can so as not to lose the feel of it. With this one I had to step away. I watched it and went to bed. I couldn’t write it up I didn’t have the words. (And apologies to Hubert who contacted me in the middle of my seeing the film for the first time and had an odd conversation with me) The next day I sat around and thought about the film all day. Then instead of writing it up I watched it again… and contemplated it some more.

My overriding feeling after the film is how the hell do I talk about this film when it’s not so much a film as one guys life? How do I critique a life? You really can’t. It’s the sense of life, the sense of this is Wojtowicz warts and all is the films strongest point. It’s this sense of being dropped into a life that lifts the film up from the rest of the documentaries you might see. It’s the feeling that the film leaves you with, that you now know Wojtowicz that makes this film great.

A must see.

In doing research on the robbery I ran across a Village Voice reprint of an 1972 article on what really happened and what was really behind it- The Mafia. The piece can be found here and makes for interesting reading especially as a counterpoint to this film.

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