American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Most great documentaries are triumphs of people-watching. "The Dog" is a triumph. This account of the true story behind "Dog Day Afternoon" is filled with individuals so fascinating that my first thought after watching it via screener was, "I wish I'd seen this with an audience." A hypothetical theater showing "The Dog" would, I'd imagine, be periodically seized by the best kind of laughter: the laughter of affirmation; laughter that says, "Yes, that's it, that's how people are."
Co-directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren seem to be operating from a place of nonjudgmental curiosity, so pure and sustained that it becomes indistinguishable from love. They can't get enough of John Wojtowicz, the Brooklyn wisenheimer who called himself Little John due to his admitted lack of endowment and yet still had the cojones to join up with a pre-Stonewall political activist group, rob a bank at Avenue P and East Third Street in August of 1972 to pay for his lover's sex change, and talk smack to a cop who dared call him a homophobic slur while reporters and TV cameras and locals watched. The filmmakers love Little John's mother Terry, too. They love his ex-wife Carmen, and his prison lover George Heath, and his great love Liz Eden, aka Ernest Aron. And why wouldn't they? Every one is a marvelous real-life character.
Little John, here a fiftysomething snaggle-toothed showboater whose every utterance sounds like dialogue from an unproduced one-man show, is a magnificent ruin of a man. When the filmmakers started interviewing him in 2002 he was more old Joe Pesci than young Al Pacino, but still riveting, thanks to his signature mix of honesty and hucksterism. When he puffs himself during in an anecdote there's often a twinkle in his eye, as if he assumes the folks on the other side of the lens are friends who'll see through him no matter how much he self-aggrandizes and exaggerates.
He says was a closeted Catholic who had his first homosexual experience in the Army; that he was a decorated Vietnam veteran loved his wife and kids but was bisexual and couldn't keep half of his sexual identity under wraps; that he joined the Gay Activists Alliance in the Village mainly to get laid; that he adores his mother and his entire extended family; that he's been capable of sexually predatory behavior throughout his life, and that even in his fifties he wasn't above cruising for sex in public parks with homeless or drug-addicted men who'd do almost anything for a few bucks; that he had violent altercations with Eve, including one that involved a knife, which he didn't pull on her, swear to God, officer; that every one of his long-term lovers, male or female, meant something to him. None of this seems contradictory. Little John may be little, but he contains multitudes.