Built out of sizzle, squawk and Nixon-era disenchantment, Sidney Lumet’s furious Dog Day Afternoon (1975) seems like one of those films that’s impossible to improve upon. And yet, the full story of real-life bungling bank robber John Wojtowicz has chapters—both before and after the crime—that would make for a compelling sequel (which this documentary serves as, for all practical purposes).
Never without his thoroughly profane Brooklyn bluster, Wojtowicz, a married Vietnam vet who came out in the late '60s, reveals himself to be an unlikely entry point to NYC’s activist gay scene of that era, participating in a same-sex wedding and getting into scrapes. His robust narration of these early events casts a wholly different light on a persona usually characterized as internal and, well, Pacino-like. Wisely, the documentary (several years in the shaping) doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the failed robbery, instead moving on to Wojtowicz’s seedy second act, in which he tried to extend his 15 minutes of fame.
Emerging from his prison sentence, he posed for purchasable photos in front of the targeted bank and cruised the disco scene, calling himself the Dog. This desperate cultivation of sagging celebrity feels especially timely—he was reality TV before the phrase even existed—and you might find yourself charmed against your better instincts. For all its eye-opening material, The Dog still feels unfinished, but for students of New York scuzziness, it’s an essential addition.
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