Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon was based on a real event that took place in Brooklyn in the early seventies where a Manhattan Bank was held siege by a gay bank robber determined to steal enough money for his male lover to undergo a sex change operation.
The film shows first time crook, Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) going to rob the bank and then realising that it has very little money at the time, the plot goes deeper as an accomplice loses their nerve early on and things start to go towards an almost ‘relaxed’ atmosphere.
Al Pacino, a rising star at the time was known for his quality of acting, his likeability and star status. He was well-known for his ability to ‘become’ the character so well that he would engage the audiences and this is what was so captivating about him as a performer.
‘Sidney Lumet, who directed Pacino in Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, recalls that “if the day’s work demanded a lunatic, he was a lunatic all day long.” Even Strasberg warned his protï¿½gï¿½, “Darling, you have to let go sometime.” Lots of writers and interviewers have gone “looking for Al,” the enigma behind (within?) the obsessive actor who won an Obie and a Tony and five Oscar nominations during his first seven years in the business.’ (1)
Al Pacino’s performance in Dog day Afternoon was Oscar nominated ‘best actor in leading role’, further more the film was nominated four more Oscars for, best director, best filmsetting, best supporting role and best picture. However the film only won one academy award, for ‘writing – original screenplay’, also won wards, including an ‘NBR award for Best Supporting Actor and a Writers Guild Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen (Frank Pierson) as well as the British Academy Award for Best Actor (Al Pacino)'(3)
At the time that the film was made there was a shift in society within male sexuality due to the changing of how the gay societies were beginning to step out and speak up.
In 1973 the Vietnam War came to an end, between that times at around the year 1969 stonewall riots Greenwich Village ‘support gay power’ began to take action. Gay men were coming out refusing to live according to the terms defined by straight society.
This plays the historical part of the film Pacino’s constant reminder that he was is a Vietnam veteran and so chants the term ‘Attica’ which is a reference to the Attica prison riots.
Throughout the bank robbery which quickly turns into more of a public transition of Sony’s sexuality, when he steps out the first time to address what the police are saying he starts to get a somewhat accepting cheer from the public who are watching the robbery. They clap and cheer him on when he begins to chant ‘Attica’.
However when Sony asks for his wife and the police get him to come to the scene of the robbery, the public begin to ask questions and make remarks, ‘his a fruit’, ‘that’s his wife?’
Not long after a group of gay supporters come to show that they are on Sony’s side by chanting ‘out of the closets and in to the streets’
This shift through the watching public represents the change in sexuality in the film itself, making a suggestion to 1970 male representation of masculinity, the attempt of male definition to others and themselves.
Al Pacino had become a character who was an outsider, something as an actor he has done many times before e.g. Panic in needle Park – Junkie, The Godfather – ethnic outsider.
His character in dog Day Afternoon was made to be someone how has an identity but isn’t afraid to bring it out in the open, therefore not standing down to what society may want him to do as appose to making a statement in a public robbery that his gay.
Sony being a Vietnam veteran doesn’t come across as someone who wants to harm people, and continuously makes this clear by the way he treats his ‘hostages’, he lets them go toilet, gets them food and drink, these aren’t the types of actions of someone who has fought in a war as major as Vietnam.
In saying this I think maybe that it’s not just the type of person he is but he has this typically soft side to him because he is homosexual and this would make the stereotypical attitude of gay men obvious in the film.
His partner, in crime Sal (John Cazale) however at points seem to be very homophobic, when the TV makes an announcement about the bank robbery they say that ’10 hostages are being held by 2 homosexual men’ once he hears this he is adamant to make someone get in touch with the TV and correct it to only ‘one homosexual robber’, in attempt to regain his masculine identity.
This makes it clear that Sal, even though he is comfortable being friends with a homosexual male, he is not comfortable with being said he is one, even if he is attempting a bank robbery. Another point that this made was that, it highlights the actions of these men; Sony being homosexual appears to have a less concerned approach to how society may see him, appears caring and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. In contrast to the heterosexual guy Sal, who ‘will blow your head off’ because he is a Vietnam veteran, and he also doesn’t want to be referred to as homosexual.
The distinction between the two characters is made to be obvious through not only their sexuality but their ability to ‘be a man’ and ‘kill’, the typical on screen image of Italian-Americans.
Al Pacino being one of the biggest Italian- American actors had portrayed characters that represent the masculine Italian-Americans in past films; it seems that the on screen law of typical Italian-Americans are sexy, violent men struggling against the powers that be to protect their family honour. In the 70’s there was The Godfather, which provided Italian-American screen masculinity throughout most of the decade, until Pacino decided to prove himself in a film that was not only about a homosexual Italian-American but more about what the film itself would represent at its time.
Al Pacino demonstrates a shift in male sexuality and personality as the film moves along. At first we witness Sony appear somewhat the mastermind, although he walks in to the bank with ‘attitude’ and determination he still has an aura of uniqueness about him.
In saying this I mean that it is strange that even thought Pacino’s character is clearly homosexual, on screen the level of masculinity doesn’t shift as much on him, its clear through reference and plot, ‘Pacino as bisexual Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon, in whom those exaggerated “Italian” gestures become slightly campy’ (4)
However Sony himself remains a man who appears to still have masculinity even after talking to his gay partner.
This makes Pacino the method actor that he is known for, because he brings his own quality to the character and manages to have an audience sympathising with him regardless of the fact that he wants to rob this bank for his partner’s sex change. Therefore it is all the more interesting throughout the film that the Italian-American masculinity can become entangled but yet remains heroic.
Taken as a whole, Dog Day Afternoon is a film with so much to analyse and understand I feel that it is a lot more then what meets the eye at first, a lot like Sony’s character. Al Pacino’s demonstration of homosexuality is told on screen by his actions and how he responds; a responses reason that changes as we find out his sexuality is one he says to Detective Moretti when he’s asked to come forward and take the offer of help from the police, ‘kiss me, I like to be kissed when I am getting fucked’
The way we see this at the time is that he is making a sarcastic comment at the police and is trying to wind them up, however once his sexuality is known the inquiring of weather he meant it in a homosexual term is brought to question through the audience. Small gestures of whistling begins to happen after Sony comes out to search the officer and make sure he is not armed before letting him in to the bank. This, in terms of the public watching means that they straight away assume that because he is gay he must be enjoying touching the man, even if he is only searching him as a precaution.