You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Film Review: ‘The Dog’

The subject of 'Dog Day Afternoon' makes a surprisingly charismatic tour guide through the early gay-rights movement.


John S. Wojtowicz, Liz Eden, Carmen Bifulco, Theresa Wojtowicz, Jeremiah Newton, Richard C. Wandel, Randy Wicker, Stan Thaler, Bob Kappstatter, Tony Wojtowicz, George Heath, Eugene Lowenkopf.

How often Hollywood embellishes. How rare, then, to find a documentary like “The Dog,” in which we discover that, if anything, Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” left out much of the incredible story behind its 1972 hostage crisis, in which misguided romantic John Wojtowicz robbed a bank to finance his lover’s sex-change operation. Here, opening up to filmmakers Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren over the course of several years, the irrepressible stick-up man shares his side, serving as the unlikeliest of tour guides through the early gay-rights movement in the process. This lively Drafthouse Films pickup should have a small but wild ride in theaters and VOD.

Personified by Al Pacino in the 1975 film, Wojtowicz was never what one might consider leading-man material. A short, self-described “pervert,” the Brooklyn lothario compensated with charisma for what he lacked in looks (and teeth). While married to his first wife, Wojtowicz sought sex in the bars and parks of Gotham’s West Village, which the still-randy ex-con tours for the cameras here, carrying himself like the neighborhood’s unofficial mayor.

The helmers are careful to show Wojtowicz at his blustery, ebullient best (despite hints of severe mood imbalances), dynamically intercutting his semi-embellished stories with B-roll of the early-’70s gay scene, vintage interviews and a series of historical events, including the widely televised Brooklyn bank robbery. Berg and Keraudren began filming Wojtowicz in 2002, devoting long hours to chronicling their subject until his death in 2006, after which the project took another seven years to complete.

Their approach is far more intimate and personal than that of previous sensation-seekers, whose interest in Wojtowicz and his case centered largely around his transgendered love interest, Ernest Aron, aka Liz Eden, who died of AIDS 15 years before this docu began filming. Via archival footage, the pic downplays the freakshow factor evident in other coverage while fully embracing the catty, unconventional terms of the couple’s relationship.

More incredible than the heist itself is the fact that Wojtowicz had participated in protests at the New York City Marriage License Bureau; that he and Eden were hitched in an early gay wedding ceremony; and that their status did little to curb either of their extracurricular sexual activities: She continued turning tricks for cash, while “the Dog” still wanted to screw everyone he met.

Naturally, the most compelling aspects are the lead-up to and retelling of the heist by Wojtowicz himself (already the subject of two other docs, “The Third Memory” and “Based on a True Story”), in which some surprising new details come to light. For example, Wojtowicz claims New York mayor John Lindsay called him during the robbery and threatened to kill all the hostages, which, if true, presents a very different picture from the historical record, where the incident is credited with inspiring the city’s hostage negotiations team. Another fun fact: Just before entering the bank, the entire team went to see “The Godfather,” starring Al Pacino.

The robbery may have been the directors’ initial reason for contacting Wojtowicz, but they clearly developed a deeper fascination with him, which results in a more intimate character study. Beneath the colorful facade, they reveal “the Dog’s” strange co-dependent relationship with his mother (a nosy old woman who describes following him down to the Village gay bars one evening), tag along for a visit with his developmentally disabled brother and interview his jailhouse husband, George Heath, who became his next obsession.

What emerges is a spunky yet surprisingly sad portrait of a sexually liberated man held captive by his past, forever chasing and trying to rewrite his own legend — to the extent that Wojtowicz, who sued Warner Bros. for his share of a movie he considered largely inaccurate, actually returned to the scene of the crime wearing a T-shirt that read “I Robbed This Bank,” selling autographs and telling his story any who would listen. Such a pathetic character normally wouldn’t warrant one film; the fact that “the Dog” spawned four proves there’s more to Wojtowicz than his crime.

SXSW Film Review: 'The Dog'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 11, 2013. (Also in SXSW Film Festival — Festival Favorites.) Running time: 101 MIN.


A Drafthouse Films release of an Unleashed Films presentation. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced, directed by Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren.


Camera (color/B&W, HD/16mm/video), Amanda Micheli, Nim-Rod Bachar, Peter Ginsburg, Axel Baumann, Wolfgang Held; editor, Kaeraudren; sound, Andrew Freiband, Brad Bergbom; sound editor, Lora Hirschberg; re-recording mixer, Brandon Proctor; graphics and animation, Wyeth Hansen, Ryan Dunn.


John S. Wojtowicz, Liz Eden, Carmen Bifulco, Theresa Wojtowicz, Jeremiah Newton, Richard C. Wandel, Randy Wicker, Stan Thaler, Bob Kappstatter, Tony Wojtowicz, George Heath, Eugene Lowenkopf.

More Film

  • Yao Chen

    Xiamen Woos Film Industry, Becomes New Home of Golden Rooster Festival

    China’s government-led Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival has found a permanent home in Fujian province’s coastal city of Xiamen, starting from this year, municipal representatives said Monday at a Shanghai Intl. Film Festival press conference. “Xiamen has the confidence and the perseverance to be up to the task,” said Dai Zhiwang, the assistant [...]

  • TheReturn press launch at Shanghai Film

    Qin Hailu's 'The Return' Makes Emotional Debut at Shanghai Festival

    “This is the final film that seals my acting career,” said 95-year-old Chinese actor Chang Feng, of “The Return,” which plays this week in competition at the Shanghai International Film Festival. “The director, the screenwriter, and the entire crew have put so much heart into this film, I hope it wins the award.” The film [...]

  • Dami Im and Bong Joon-Ho'Parasite' premiere,

    ‘Parasite’ Wins Sydney Film Festival

    “Parasite,” the South Korean black drama that previously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was Sunday named as the winner of the Sydney Film Festival. After collecting a cash prize of A$60,000 ($41,200), at Sydney’s State Theatre, “Parasite” director said: “This Festival is really amazing, especially the audience…really special and extraordinary. This is the most [...]

  • China Film Group's Jiang Ping

    Shanghai: China Studio Chiefs Debate Winter Chills and U.S. Rivalry

    The Shanghai International Film Festival pulled off the impressive feat of assembling leading executives from seven of China’s top film studios. Their discussion focused on the problems that have recently beset the production sector and the industry’s relationship with Hollywood. “The film industry achieved great things in 2018, but it was also the year that [...]

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping claps while

    Propaganda Films to Dominate Chinese Theaters in Anniversary Year

    A presentation at the Shanghai International Film Festival on Sunday shed light on the welter of propaganda films that will compete with Hollywood blockbusters for the attention of Chinese cinema goers in the second half of this year. This year is laden with political significance for China’s ruling Communist Party. It is 100 years since [...]

  • Leung Chiu-wai

    Tony Leung to Star in Shanghai Film Group's 'Fox Hunt' Police Action Film

    Hong Kong’s Tony Leung Chiu-wai and mainland China’s Duan Yihong will head the cast of the Shanghai Film Group’s upcoming “Fox Hunt.” The film is based on real live events and depicts the activities of Operation Fox Hunt, a worldwide anti-corruption initiative managed by China’s Ministry of Public Security. The operation seeks to find and [...]

  • Wings Over Everest

    Terence Chang's 'Wings Over Everest' Set to Swell China's Rescue Film Genre

    “Wings over Everest,” a new action adventure film from veteran producer Terence Chang and “Wolf Warrior 2” producer Lu Jianmin, is poised to join the burgeoning Chinese sub-genre of rescue movies.   The Chinese- and English-language film stars Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu (“Project Gutenberg”; “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”), Japanese actor Koji Yakusho (“Babel”; “Memoirs of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content