Jon Wojtowicz, the real “Sonny” from “Dog Day Afternoon”
“THE DOG” My rating: B (Opening Aug. 15 at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet)
100 minutes |No MPAA rating
One of the iconic images of the 1970s comes from the film “Dog Day Afternoon.” Al Pacino plays a bank robber who paces in the doorway of the building where he’s holding hostages, berating the surrounding cops, demanding pizza, a getaway plane and a sex change operation for his boyfriend.
Pacino played a character named Sonny. The real life Sonny was John Wojtowicz, and “The Dog” is his story.
Filmmakers Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren followed the elderly Wojtowicz over several years (he died in 2006) and their documentary leaves us with as many questions as answers. This was probably inescapable, for Wojtowicz was a raging egoist, a bombastic storyteller, a mixture of admirable traits (when he fell in love, he fell in LOVE), hilarious self-aggrandizement (until it gets wearisome), profane poetry and a sexual appetite that was off the charts.
“I’ve had four wives, 23 girlfriends,” the white haired Wojtowicz boasts. “They all know each other. I’m like Prudential. I’m the rock.”
The film follows his remarkable life from Brooklyn boyhood to service in Vietnam, his discovery (in basic training) of gay sex, his return home and his marriage to a neighborhood girl.
But before long he was part of the Manhattan homosexual scene in the wake of the Stonewall riots. Wojtowicz became a gay activist — though he admits it was as much to get laid as for his sense of social justice. He met and “married” Ernest Aaron, a transexual, and it was Ernie’s desperate quest for a sex change operation (he had attempted suicide several times) that drove Wojtowicz in August of 1972 to devise a bumbling plan to rob a Chase Manhattan Bank outlet in Brooklyn.
The crime turned into a long standoff that drew huge crowds and unfolded on live television. Wojtowicz put on a show, strutting for the news cameras, hurling insults and handfuls of cash at the cops, playing the big man.
Watching the vintage TV footage, one realizes how accurately Pacino and director Sidney Lumet captured the event.
Wojtowicz spent seven years in federal prison being beaten and gang raped…though eventually he “married” another inmate.
While in prison, “Dog Day Afternoon” was released. Wojtowicz was pleased by the attention paid his outlandish story: “Nobody would rob a bank to get the money to cut off a guy’s dick in a sex change operation. That’s why they made a movie about it.”
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