Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Boy loses girl. Girl meets someone else. Boy commits despicable act of spite and jealousy. Boy resolves to win Girl back ... once he serves out his prison sentence, that is.
Crazy Love isn't exactly the same old story of a fight for love and glory, but this riveting documentary packs all the thrills, poignancy and dark humor of the most exciting fiction film.
Our tale begins in the Bronx one September afternoon in 1957, when 32-year-old Burt Pugach meets a young raven-haired beauty named Linda Riss. It was obsession at first sight for Burt, a gawky but wildly successful New York lawyer specializing in personal-injury and negligence cases. Linda was gorgeous and more than 10 years Burt's junior, but the attorney was nothing if not tenacious. He lavished Linda with money and attention, flying her around in his private airplane and fussing over her at a nightclub he co-owned. The house band was instructed to strike up the tune "Linda" whenever she entered the joint.
So began an intoxicating whirlwind romance that lasted until Linda found out that her devoted suitor had a wife and child. She abruptly broke off the affair. Burt begged Linda for another chance. She hedged. Burt assured her he would get a divorce, and for proof he presented Linda with divorce papers that turned out to be forgeries. It was the last straw for Linda. She again kicked Burt to the curb and got engaged to a handsome young hunk she had met during a vacation in Florida.
Burt Pugach, no gracious loser in affairs of the heart, then became infamous for his expertise in a whole different kind of personal injury. In the summer of 1959, he hired three thugs to toss lye in Linda's face, an attack that left her blinded and disfigured. It landed Burt a 30-year prison sentence, of which he served 14 behind bars. Love may or may not be blind, but in the wrong hands it evidently can at least cause blindness.
And yet that was far from the end of the twisted tale. Although the long, strange trip of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss is well-documented, revealing more here would dilute some of the jaw-dropping bombshells of this remarkably engrossing film. Suffice it to say, there was a happy ending, of sorts.
Directors Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens are deceptively straightforward in their approach to the material. They let the narrative unfold organically through separate interviews with Burt and Linda, as well as a gaggle of Burt and Linda's friends and relatives. Moreover, the documentary makers integrate a wealth of footage -- from home movies and photographs to newspaper headlines and newsreels -- to the accompaniment of an evocative soundtrack of pop songs from the time period.
Crazy Love might look and sound like a standard doc, but it crackles with an edginess that is hardly commonplace. The story is sensational enough that it does not need to be artificially ginned up, but Klores, who is among Manhattan's most celebrated public-relations wizards, knows how to pump up the proceedings by revealing information in tantalizing dribbles. This is brilliant storytelling, and it is all the more impressive because it feels so seamless.
There is a freak show aspect to Crazy Love, but at its core are universal themes of obsession, despair and fear of loneliness. Linda is undoubtedly reluctant to admit it, but her ultimate fate is more about insecurity and loss of self-esteem than it is about the whims of a sadistic creep (although it is certainly about that, too). Crazy Love is the best kind of documentary, a fascinating and complicated tale that is more than the sum of its parts. On its surface, it is the tabloid-friendly tale of a bizarre relationship. It is likely to linger in your memory, however, because of the implications it has for us all.
The picture quality is as good as you'd expect from a movie that had its theatrical release earlier this year. Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the print transfer is devoid of blemishes and other defects. While the bulk of visuals stems from old newspapers and the like, the images are surprisingly clean and sharp.
Viewers can choose between 5.1 Dolby Digital or 2.0 Dolby Digital, both of which are fine for this dialogue-driven flick.
A commentary track includes lengthy remarks by Klores and a separate interview in which Burt and Linda offer their post-film thoughts. The latter is a bit of a disappointment. Burt and Linda don't comment on particular parts of the movie and they offer little insight, aside from Burt's curious belief that the documentary has helped rehabilitate his image.
Klores' comments are much more informative and interesting. He disputes critics who characterize Crazy Love as being about misery. "It's a film that poses significant questions to concepts of loneliness," he says, "questions that affected me throughout most of my life." He goes on to describe how the story made an indelible impression on him as a child, and he reveals that he originally conceived the movie as a quasi-fiction piece that would utilize reenactments of key scenes. Thankfully, he opted instead to make a full-fledged documentary.
For diehard admirers of the movie, there are more than 43 minutes of deleted interviews with Burt, Linda and 10 others who appear in the film. Some of it is fascinating, but the talking-head bonanza can be rather exhausting.
Rounding out the bonus material are text of Burt's prison letters to Linda and a slideshow of Linda's artwork.
One of the finest documentaries in recent years, Crazy Love is a powerful, haunting story of obsession, love and treachery. The volatile relationship of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss was fodder for New York tabloids for more than 15 years, but the tale resonates on deeper levels. Documentarians Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens have taken a sensationalistic case and quietly done the unthinkable: They crafted a profound work of art.