28 August 2019

Reflections on Dog Day Afternoon and Some of My Usual Miscellany

Midway through Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny (Al Pacino) says: "I’m a fuck up and an outcast and that’s it." Yes, yes he was. But he had the attention of New York city that night. His story was carried live on TV as he held bank employees hostage and waited for his demands -- an airplane to take him and his partner (John Cazale) to Algeria. Sonny got more than his 15 minutes of fame and it was loud and brash and splashy and the residue of that day (August 22, 1972) kept him in the news until his death, just as the film has kept his memory alive onto this day.

It is Sidney Lumet's direction of the brilliant film and Al Pacino's bravura performance that will ensure that Sonny lives forever -- or at least until the effects of global warming drown humanity for good and all. 

Today was perhaps my sixth or seventh or maybe even eighth viewing of the film, the first one was when it first hit the silver screen in 1975. Today during the famous cinematic moment when Pacino's Sonny starts chanting "Attica!" I actually and truly got choked up. It is not a sentimental moment by any stretch but it is a moment of cinematic virtuosity that confirms Dog Day's place among America's pantheon of great films. At that point in the film Pacino was in the midst of giving one of cinema's greatest portrayals. His Sonny is the ultimate loser -- or fuck up and outcast -- a man who robs a bank to fund his wife Leon's (Chris Sarandon) sex change operation. As the story unfolds Leon is in a mental hospital, driven their in part by Sonny's erratic behavior. His other wife is an obese woman who has born him two children. She loves Sonny but has also been plagued by the mercurial Sonny. We also meet Sonny's mother who loves her son unconditionally but partially expresses her love by hectoring him.

So why did I get choked up, really? Great art, which film can achieve, is moving. Two great artists -- Pacino and Lumet -- had combined (with the not insignificant help of cast and crew) to transcend movie-making and created something not just memorable as a meme, but illustrative of the masterpiece they had created. It touched me.

Sonny is astute about a lot of things in the course of the robbery and hostage situation, including bank procedures. When the limo comes to take him and partner and the hostages to the airport, Sonny wisely surrounds himself with the hostages as they leave the bank, not leaving himself to be a target for the innumerable police sharp shooters. But he can't win in the end. The Sonnys never do. His swagger, his antics, his sensitivity, his patience, his cunning are not enough to make up for the central core of what he is, "a fuck up and an outcast and that’s it." However, unlike most losers he gained infamy without opprobrium. 

I wrote about Dog Day Afternoon five years ago, including the story of how my wife met the real Sonny.

Speaking of Dog Day Afternoon, there are no actual dogs in the film. There are no cats in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There is no lion in The Lion in Winter. There are no horses in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? There is no elephant in Gus Van Sandt's Elephant. There is no tiger in Save the Tiger. There are, however, lots of Birds in the movie of the same name.

I had a medical appointment this morning scheduled for 9:45. Two days prior I received a courtesy call from the office reminding me of the appointment, but also telling me to arrive 30 minutes early to fill out paperwork Why was the appointment made for 9:45 if I was supposed to be there at 9:15? When not just make the appointment for 9:15 in the first place? Here's the kicker: the paperwork took me less than five minutes and checking in and making my co-payment consumed about two minutes. I didn't even need to get there ten minutes early, let alone 30. I'm old enough neither to be surprised nor frustrated by any of this.

I'm currently going through withdrawals as I have stopped taking (after tapering off) the medication that ostensibly was a mood stabilizer that would keep mean, nasty old depression from bothering me. Suffice to say that this magic elixir did nothing of the kind and joins the pantheon of meds I've taken to brighten my mood that have had zero effect. For all I know some of them have made things worse. Anyway I've been having to put up with brain zaps which is one of the hardest phenomenon I've ever tried to explain. The best I can do is say that they're like little electric shocks to the brain. They don't really cause any problems or prevent me from doing anything, but they are an awful nuisance. Other withdrawal symptoms for this particular drug include: "agitation, anxiety, depression, dizziness, fatigue, headache, insomnia, irritability, itchiness, mood swings, muscle spasms, nausea, panic attacks, sleep changes, suicidal thoughts, vomiting, vivid dreams and weight changes." The only ones I've had besides the brain zaps are vivid dreams and depression although I have vivid dreams and depression pretty much as a matter of course (never together) so they are not necessarily associated with going off the drug. Trust me, the brain zaps are enough.
I love science.

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