Dog, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe learns the fascinating true story behind one of his favourite movies...
Coming of age in the 1960s, John Wojtowicz took pride in being a pervert. His libido was excessive even by the libertine standards of the era, with multiple wives and lovers, both women and men. In August 1972, he attempted to rob a Brooklyn bank to finance his lover's sex-reassignment surgery. The attempted heist resulted in a fourteen-hour hostage situation that was broadcast on TV. Three years later, Pacino portrayed Wojtowicz, instigating the unforgettable crime on the big screen. The award-winning film had a profound influence on Wojtowicz and, when he emerged from prison six years later, he became known as ‘The Dog.’ (From Drafthouse Films’ official synopsis)
Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon is, arguably, the quintessential American film. It celebrates the warring promises and lies of modern capitalism. It demonstrates our popular culture’s willingness to embraces criminals as celebrities, alongside our tendency to turn on our celebrities when their humanity is exposed. It explores concepts of media saturation, the public’s tumultuous relationship with police authorities, social class malaise, the fluidity of the concept of ‘modern love,’ political activism, and the effects of imperialism on the lives of military veterans. The only real villains in the film are bad choices and misunderstandings. Most incredibly, Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson didn’t need to cram any of this into thinly-veiled metaphors or conceptual subtexts, because Dog Day Afternoon is based on the true story of John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale’s nearly successful armed robbery of a Chase Manhattan Bank in Brooklyn – an event that played out in front of television audiences and local residents in real time during the summer of 1972. Almost every essentially American thing about the film is being recreated, not fabricated, to make a point (well, for the most part).
Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s The Dog is, in itself, a fascinating and entertaining documentary feature, but, as a companion piece to Lumet’s fundamental slice of Americana, it’s positively indispensable. They, of course, examine the true facts of John Wojtowicz’ botched bank robbery, pointing out some of the inconsistencies between the film and the actual event. But all of this stuff has been covered pretty extensively in television specials, DVD extras, and two older documentaries – Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory (2000) and Walter Stokman’s Based on a True Story (2005). The Dog plays a more critical role in disclosing and analyzing Wojtowicz’ life leading up to and following the robbery. Al Pacino’s movie version of Wojtowicz was well-rounded and loveable, but he and Lumet were already taking a big chance portraying a gay character in a studio film in 1975. This documentary covers his time in Vietnam, his work with New York’s gay rights movement, and then delves into the often depressing and unwritten story of his post-criminal life – including the release of Lumet’s movie. The real Wojtowicz wasn’t the consummate sweetheart we all fell in love with when Pacino portrayed him. He’s a tough, sometimes cruel, and often crass human being that is almost obnoxious in his over-compensation and refusal to sugarcoat his life. His best intentions are constantly distorted by his love of attention and his brutal honesty concerning his actions, but he’s still an endlessly compelling person.
In lesser hands, The Dog would be an idle, sub-Ken Burns series of talking heads, detached news footage, and slow-zooms into still photographs. Fortunately, Berg and Keraudren punch up their talking heads with dynamic editing, speedy pace, and interesting juxtapositions of images and sound. Over a decade of searching, they managed to score a goldmine of archival home videos, including images from gay rights meetings that Wojtowicz attended, images from Wojtowicz and Ernest Aron’s wedding (the man whose sex change instigated the robbery), raw footage from the robbery itself (probably taken from news sources), and a really uncomfortable interview from a public access television show that was hosted by a porn star. The key source of video is Randolfe ‘Ricky’ Wicker, who followed Wojtowicz’ story from his work with gay rights groups through his post-criminal life, including an early interview of Aron just before her sex change. What’s fascinating about Wicker’s part in the story is that he didn’t initially mean to trail Wojtowicz and a lot of the early footage is incidental. Berg and Keraudren’s new interviews with Wojtowicz, recorded for the film before his death from cancer in 2006, coincide with a tour of various New York hotspots, hosted by the man himself.
Like most archival documentaries, The Dog includes footage from many different sources, including video, various film formats (some colour, some black and white), and digital HD interviews. The whole thing is presented on this Blu-ray in 1080p, 1.78:1 (the box art mislabels the OAR as 2.35:1) video and the quality is just as sketchy as you’d expect. The video footage, the majority of which is black and white, is particularly flat and skewed by tracking lines, something the filmmakers sort of embrace as part of their stylistic palette. The newer interviews (the ones shot on digital HD) are a bit noisy, due in large part to the fact that they’re consistently shot in dark environments. The footage of Wojtowicz himself, both the talking head and street tour sequences, is probably the oldest ‘new’ footage and exhibits the kind of artefacts usually associated with older digital HD cameras, i.e. edge enhancement effects, uneven colours, and shallow details. The 1080p makes the biggest difference when it comes to the clarity of the film-based images. These are certainly dirty, grainy, and often covered in print damage artefacts, but are not further hindered by compression issues. The high-resolution photographs are particularly sharp, right down to the texture of the paper they’re printed on.
The Blu-ray box art lists a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but the disc itself features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The majority of the soundtrack is, expectedly, devoted to dialogue and the quality of the dialogue depends on the quality of the recording. Some of the archival recordings are understandably rough, flat, and poppy. The most distorted stuff (and the interviews with Wojtowicz’ mother) includes subtitles. The discussions recorded specifically for the film is plenty clean and well-balanced in terms of volume. The dialogue is consistently delegated to the center channel, as are the bulk of the sound effects, but some of the more stylistically expressive noises (such as helicopters and jeering crowds during the robbery scenes) are directionally enhanced. There is very little traditional score or original music, but, as mentioned in the feature section, The Dog does include a number of period-appropriate mood, pop, and rock melodies. The music has a nice stereo spread and effective LFE boost.
- Commentary with directors Allison Berg & Frank Keraudren, moderated by Toronto International Film Festival film curator, Thom Powers (no relation) – This down-to-business track fills us in on the odd, ten-year process of making The Dog. The directors have plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes tales, including the film moving away from talking about Lumet’s movie (they had originally intended on interviewing the film’s cast & crew), Wojtowicz’ difficult nature, reaching out to the other people involved with the story, discovering the archival footage, and some of the stuff that didn’t make the final cut. Powers is also very well-versed in the film and asks plenty of valuable questions that keep the discussion moving.
- 14 deleted/extended scenes (40:30) – For the most part, this is further footage of Wojtowicz discussing practically random aspects of his life, but it also includes uncut versions of Wicker’s wedding video and interview with Aron (under the name Liz Eden).
- Trailers for other Drafthouse Films releases.
The Dog is a sobering reminder that the world goes on after the Hollywood adaptation ends. I’m not so sure it would mean as much to me if I wasn’t already an abiding fan of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, but am willing to bet most viewers will find it engrossing on its own merits. Drafthouse Films’ Blu-ray isn’t going to win any awards for A/V quality, but it looks and sounds great, considering its patchwork assembly. The extras include a solid commentary and more than 40 minutes of deleted footage.
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th November 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Directors Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Booklet, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren
Cast: John Wojtowicz, Carmen Bifulco, Jeremy Bowker, Liz Debbie Eden, George Heath
Length: 101 minutes
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