|Copyright 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
|Based on a True Story
Ever wonder when you see the disclaimer "BASED ON A
TRUE STORY" on a film exactly how TRUE the story is? Of course,
a screenwriter will take liberties -- scenes may be condensed, composite
characters may be created, dialogue may be tweaked -- all in the name
of dramatic license. Well Dutch filmmaker Walter Stokman had
questions about the real tale behind the hit 1975 award winning film
DOG DAY AFTERNOON, which was, well "based on a true story."
So Stokman set about investigating the events that occurred in
Brooklyn in August 1972, and he's come away with an engaging and
highly entertaining documentary.
The opening sequence is rather depressing, though, as it
resembles one of the "Jaywalking" skits from "The Tonight Show
with Jay Leno." Those are the filmed sequences where Leno stops
ordinary people on the street and asks what should be fairly easy
questions. Well, Stokman asks people in New York about the movie
DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and most reply that they aren't aware of
it. I grant you that it has been 30 years since the film was released, but
it's a classic, one of the best movies made by director Sidney Lumet
and featuring Al Pacino in a bravura performance alongside the late
John Cazale, Chris Sarandon (who was robbed of an Oscar by
sentiment, he lost the well-deserved prize to George Burns), the late
James Broderick, and Charles Durning, among others.
Lumet's film, written by Frank Pierson, was indeed drawn from
real-life events. In fact, the story was so outrageous and so original
that if someone had actually concocted it, everyone would have laughed
and said that it was too preposterous. To wit, in the summer of 1972,
one John Wojtowicz, along with his partner Sal Naturile entered a
branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank on Avenue P in the Flatbush
section of Brooklyn and attempted to rob the bank. But everything
seemed to go wrong: within minutes, the police and FBI were tipped
off and surrounded the bank, leading to a 14-hour standoff during
which several bank employees were held hostage. The corker was
Wojtowicz's reason for the robbery: to obtain funds to pay for a sex
change operation of his lover Ernest Aron (whom he had "married" in
a church wedding).
Since the Stonewall riots had only occurred a scant three years
earlier, there was still the curiosity factor for the media, and Stokman
has found terrific archival footage of local news broadcasts regarding
the event. He has also tracked down some of the surviving law officers
and hostages who were willing to be interviewed. Perhaps the most
intriguing aspect of the film, though, is his dealings with Wojtowicz
himself. The guy willingly posed for photographs, but demanded
payment for his story, and his delusional and extortionate demands
are both amusing and sad.
While it's doubtful that one can ever really know the "truth" behind
any event -- each participant has a unique "truth" that may or may not
match other people's versions -- this terrific documentary probably
comes as close as possible to what happened that fateful August day.
Viewed at NewFest at the Loews 34th Street Theater.