It was 1959, and Burt Pugach, a funny-looking guy, but an extremely rich and successful New York lawyer by the standards of the day, spotted a beautiful girl, Linda Riss, on a street in the New York borough of the Bronx. He immediately jumped out of his car, introduced himself to her, and started courting her, with his classy car, his airplane, his nightclubs, and his nascent filmmaking career-- he'd just finished making a film, in London, starring now nearly forgotten, but very much pretty-boy-of-the-day Keith Brasselle. Unfortunately, however, Pugach was married. The attorney quickly became obsessed with Linda, and tried every twist and turn, every lie he could think of, to keep her. But Linda, an ordinary girl in every way, aside from her looks, had been raised in a household of women, where men were not necessarily trusted, and she was able to track his every twist. No divorce, no Linda was her position, and she took her leave, became engaged to somebody else.
Pugach's obsessional love went far beyond the ordinary, and he was determined that if he couldn't have Linda, nobody would. So he hired a coupla thugs to throw lye in her face. She was disfigured, and blinded. Pugach's trial was a media circus, covered extensively by Jimmy Breslin, among the city's famous journalists. Pugach was found guilty, disbarred, and sent to jail, where he became a winning jailhouse lawyer, freeing several men. He was in New York State's most feared upstate prison, Attica, when riots broke out there, taking several lives. Upon his release, he regained his lawyer's license, and was, remarkably enough, married to Linda. He was to lose his lawyer's license yet again by threatening another beautiful young woman, an employee, with "what Linda got." Linda stuck by him; today he has a successful paralegal business (the man's evidently an inspired lawyer) in the New York borough of Queens.
It's a unique New York story, and it's doubtful anything like it has ever happened anywhere else. It was celebrated in its time, the media made a feast of it, and, in its general themes, remarkably powerful. All the important characters are still alive, and were willing to talk freely to Fisher Stevens, who made this film: he deserves the greatest praise for that. We see archival stills, and film, but it's the current day Linda and Burt who are the stars of their own show.
And if you don't believe Linda could have married Burt after what he did to her, think about it some more. Women's lives haven't changed that much in the intervening nearly half-a-century since Burt and Linda first met, and "Crazy Love" lays it all out for you.
I first heard of this documentary this past summer. The premise seemed very odd, jealous guy (Burt Pugach) hires guys to throw acid in the face of ex-girlfriend (Linda Riss) and after he gets out of prison, she marries him. What's more interesting is the story unfolds in the seemingly innocent 1950's. Thru interviews with Burt, Linda and friends of the couple, the story is told. After watching the movie, you understand how Linda got to a point in her life after the incident where she felt she would spend the rest of her life alone. Burt was there and loved her, something seemingly no other man was able to do after the incident. It's ultimately a tragic love story about a man who is a borderline madman and a woman who didn't want to be alone in her dark and lonely world.
on November 21, 2007
When I first encountered the story of Burt and Linda Pugach, some many years ago, in the paper back edition of Burt's biography, what I read on the cover I simply could not believe. At first I thought it was a novel, some kind of elaborate publishing hoax with a rather sick premise, but gradually I came to realize this was for real. I didn't buy the book, I confess. I treated it like it was radioactive and after a few minutes I put gingerly in back on the rack thinking: no good can come from this. But, I never forgot the essence of the story. What did it say about them, us, everyone? So when the documentary was finally made I jumped at the chance to see it.
[I should mention at this point that Burt and Linda have been what is termed a "staple" of the tabloids, at one point reaching all the way, if that is the correct way to put it, to People magazine. I don't read such stuff, however, so I did not know their story continued and in the scheme of things has probably turned out as well as one could hope.]
The DVD is probably the way to go with this story, not watching it in theaters. It is just too intimate, in all the senses of the word, a tale. Watch it all, cut scenes, features etc. Most of all, make sure you listen to the commentary track. At the end, you will then be able decide for yourself. Personally, I think the documentary did their story as fairly and as in depth as could be done. It really is an outstanding achievement. It frustrates some people however because it must seem the truth is missing: this story is so off the scale, so far beyond "Freudian," that while it is tempting to make psychological assessments, don't. The overwhelming majority of people are not competent to do so -- I'm certainly not -- and one would advise against it in any event. Here are two people who themselves probably, even after fifty years of living with the story, have no idea what really happened. But they are living whatever it was, and that is all they or we need to know.
As for Burt, he remains one scary dude, as the director himself would find out first hand, yet one cannot help but respect him, in a way. He is a survivor with a strong element of luck in his life, if that is correct way to put it. He certainly suffered, both before and after his crime, but whether he suffered enough I leave to others to judge. He's smart, resourceful, and in a word indeed "obsessed." "Determined" doesn't quite seem to say it about Burt. For someone who is pushing 80, he comes across as sharp and tough as ever. Given all that he has been through and all that he has done, this is no small accomplishment.
I should point out that Burt does at times appear callous and indifferent to Linda's blindness (a point the director himself makes in the commentary), but I can't help but wonder if he simply does not see Linda as she is now, but only sees her as she was in the late 1950's. The documentary seems to come to that conclusion as well. Love is blind, in more ways than one. Certainly forgiveness is, if it is to be worthy of the name.
As for Linda, she seemed to have been saving herself for the right monster and one day Mr. Wrong did come along. I have to confess I like her. She is obviously quite talented, intelligent, witty and every bit Burt's match in toughness. But as with Burt, I'm relieved I never had to interact with either of them. I care for them both, however, and certainly one of the most amazing things about "Crazy Love" is the degree we come to view both of them as human beings. This is not a freak show. There is so much suffering in the world if these two people can hold on to some measure of happiness given their history, then more power to them. I think as a viewer, you can't help but hope the best for them and at the end of the film wonder what will happen to the other when either of them dies.
on May 5, 2009
Would like to spend 92 minutes of your life sitting in slack-jaw sublime disbelief as you stare at your television, occasionally managing to close your mouth long enough to mutter the words "What is wrong with these people?" If the answer is "yes", Crazy Love is the documentary for you.
This film was a revelation to me. I stumbled across this gem not knowing the story and so I was expecting a sober documentary about an insane stalker and the damage he inflicted. Drop the "sober" part of the description and you've got half the story here. The directors of Crazy Love decided that in order to understand crazy you need to embrace crazy, starting with the soundtrack. How can a soundtrack be crazy, you ask? Well, what would you call including "Burning Love" by Elvis Presley as the song over the end credits in a documentary about the blinding of a love-one using lye? I rest my case.
This is a heartwarming story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl (when she finds out he's married and has a daughter), boy hires thug to blind girl, boy gets arrested and drags his trial out with a series of antics, boy goes to Attica, girl pluckily soldiers on, boy sends girl money, boy gets paroled, boy and girl are reunited by caring friends and ultimately remarry. I know. What kind of friend sets you up on a date with THE MAN WHO HAD LYE THROWN IN YOUR FACE? You can see just what they look like here. Apparently they thought that marrying her attacker would offer her financial security. Couldn't she have just sued him? Even Civil Rights lawyer William Kunstler acts as envoy of love for these two, proving that something really was in the water in NYC in the 70s.
You can also find here proof that before Jerry Springer and America Undercover and pretty much anything on ABC, Trainwreck TV was pioneered by former Disney Prince Charming Mike Douglas. Who but the Philadelphia-based talk show host and all around class act would have the "happy" couple on to discuss their "unlikely" love story? Not Merv and Dinah, that's for sure.
When lye-victim-and-spouse Linda says "I couldn't admit to myself I still cared for him" I nodded in agreement because I couldn't admit to myself I was actually watching this. As Jimmy Breslin so eloquently puts it, these are two of the "most visibly insane" people who "are not incarcerated." Yes, there is a story in here about the addictive allure of the tabloid spotlight but nothing distracts from the slow-motion horror of watching two people calmly recount their efforts to out-crazy each other. It's riveting film-making and creepy as hell.
This movie is missing two words from the beginning of the title. The first is "Bat".
on April 28, 2008
I won't reiterate the basic facts ad nauseum. This story is fascinating in the same way people can't help watching a train wreck or pause on the highway to see a gory accident.It is tragic not just because Linda was an exceptionally bright,talented and gorgeous girl, but because she felt she was left with very few options after her disfigurement. She felt so desperate that she married her abuser. Which brings me to the more poignant points and ones that are not addressed in the movie. Are we to believe that this Narcissistic sociopath Burt, suddenly changed into a non-abusive great husband? If an abuser gets what he or she wants through their violence or any means at their disposal (because its really about power NOT love) the abuse escalates. Now Burt got what he wanted through his abuse and in fact we know that he continued his abuse in the form of long term adultery while married (yet again - he was married while dating Linda too, and that's why she dumped him to begin with.)Cheating and lying are a form of abuse. So are we to believe that that Burt miraculously stopped all forms of abuse to Linda??? This irratingly has never been addressed in the movie, nor in anything I have read about their story.To me that is one of the main points and should have been asked and answered point blank. The question is Linda, did Burt continue to abuse you emotionally and/or physically during your long marriage? I would venture to say OFCOURSE without waiting for her answer. She had the "Chutzpah" to dump him for being a creep originally and still seems like a strong person.So why is she with him? I mean she is not Quasimoto, she still has a great figure and good personality. She could even have found another blind man to bond with if she was too self conscious around sighted people. It doesn't make sense, any of it, and that's what in part is so fascinating. Linda tries to play it off like she orders and bosses her husband around and he has to do everything for her and that is her revenge. Okay, but still one fails to understand how she can stand sleeping with and stand being next to the guy. This guy is clearly a misogynist with no respect for others. Take his money from afar, that would be understable, not this.In the cycle of abuse the woman often stays with the man until she break emotional and financial ties. However, this is the first time I heard of a woman that initially had healthy reactions against this abuse, and then twenty years later, after she had much time to mull it over and not be emotionally connected to this man - except maybe to hate him, that she rewards him and obliterates herself by marrying him and then staying with him - after he cheated on her and threatened yet another woman with the same fate she had. This is what is fascinating. I think this movie is worthwhile to see and discuss with your teenage daughers to teach them about real life domestic violence and why it is so serious. I would like to ask them afterward what they would do if a boy or man started acting abusively and why they think she is staying with him? So to sum up this movie is a great conversation piece on a topic that is difficult and especially so for those in it to come to terms with. It is movie that stays with you whether you liked it or not and will keep you scratching your head over this conundrum.
on April 27, 2015
Here's the issue: Was the documentary well done and interesting? Yes, four stars. Was it also sick and disturbing and sending the wrong social message regarding violence against women? YES!!!!! This poor woman was broke, blind, lonely and scared. She had no way to support herself thanks to her abuser and ended up having no choices left. This is a tragic and sad commentary on the poor resources available to people with disabilities and women who were abused in the 1950's. You see Linda's visceral reactions when she remembers the violence and also when she recounts the love of her "almost" husband. I found this horribly tragic and sad. This is only one step above her abuser holding her prisoner in his basement, but instead he holds her prisoner by blinding her and leaving her without financial resources to manage such a profound disability and escape loneliness. To use the term "love" in the title is offensive to all women who have ever been abused. It should have been more aptly titled, "Crazy Obsession."
on October 23, 2007
When two people -- in this case, Burt Pugach and Linda (nee Riss) Pugach -- agree to participate in a documentary entitled CRAZY LOVE about their "unique" (that's a euphemism, friends) long-standing relationship, it's difficult not to dislike them. Yes -- I can't say it enough -- all people ARE in fact entitled to live their own lives, make their own decisions, create their own standards, etc. But when those people invite an audience to listen in on their very particular story for ninety-odd minutes, there is a bargain to be made: because the audience invests its time in hearing out this story -- and largely from the perspective of the Pugaches themselves, the audience is likewise invited (or should I say required) to react and to have an opinion about these people.
The story, as often recounted, is that Burt Pugach, an unattractive, maladjusted young man (who makes his money in insurance fraud) literally suctions onto Linda Riss in 1950's New York City. He persistently woos her with a glamorous, big spender lifestyle, all the while neglecting to tell her he is married (with child). When she discovers the truth, he, being a lawyer, fakes divorce documents. When she discovers the truth again, she leaves Burt and later starts a relationship with another man. Nevertheless, Burt continues -- with a psychotic tenacity -- to attempt to contact her and revive their relationship. Finally, Linda and the other man decide to marry, but Burt cannot allow this: he hires some guys to show up at her house and throw lye in her face, which deforms her and severely damages her eyesight. Burt is sent off to jail. When he gets out, the lonely, unattached Linda agrees to meet him; they quickly develop a relationship and get married. Later in their marriage, Burt is taken to court by another young woman with whom he had an affair and whom he allegedly threatened (implicitly, to do the same thing to her that he did to Linda in the 1950's). Linda Pugach, who can inspire only a wealth of pity (not SYMpathy) in the audience, pardons her husbands sexual transgressions and refuses to believe that he threatened the young woman.
I am not trying to suggest that great movies cannot be made about unlikeable people, but CRAZY LOVE is not one of them. The substance of the film is merely the telling of the story. There is little here to explain to audience why a seemingly intelligent woman would resign herself to a life with a man who seems to care only for his own petulent desires and is willing to destroy others to achieve them. Linda Pugach herself sheds no light on her decision to be with Burt; perhaps she refused to justify herself or perhaps the filmmaker did not delve deeply enough, assuming that the sensationalistic storyline would be more than enough to "entertain." For a few minutes in the film, Linda's friends speculate that she was lonely and felt damaged and unloveable, but this is never addressed with Linda herself. Burt, meanwhile, comes across as smug and "quaintly" of an area when men treated their women like objects to be had (and replaced, when need be). The film does address the abuse Burt suffered as a child but does not deal directly with Burt's responsibility in any of his life. It's as though the really tough questions were never asked of these people and were therefore never answered. All we are left with is tabloid caricatures.
This is the story of Burton Pugach, a New York attorney who, in 1959, hired some thugs to attack the woman (Linda Riss) with whom he had become obsessed. After going to prison, Pugach had the gall to continue his pursuit of Riss. Crazy Love is about Pugach's 1959 crime, his time in prison, and the events following his release from prison in 1974. The film also focuses on Riss' often futile attempts to put her life back together after the attack.
It's difficult to generalize about this film without giving too much away. Pugach certainly is a "piece of work" and I suspect that few viewers will come away from Crazy Love with a positive opinion of the man. Pugach veers between accepting responsibility for his actions and attempting to deflect the blame on everyone else who has crossed his path. Journalist Jimmy Breslin calls Pugach the craziest person he has met in over 50 years of living in New York City.
Riss emerges as more of a mystery. The viewer feels sorry for her, but cannot fathom the choices that she has made in her life. Video of Riss in the present, moreover, reveals her as a harpy, who is anything but likeable.
In the end, the filmmakers are smart enough to avoid editorializing. The viewer is left to make sense of these two bizarre lives. I think that the decision not to "preach" to viewers was wise, but potential viewers should be aware that there are plenty of loose ends at the film's conclusion.
As a final note, the film has an excellent soundtrack of classic rock songs. My wife and I both thought that the subdued way that the filmmakers used the soundtrack added to Crazy Love.
Crazy Love is a great film for those who want to watch a true story that will make them think.
on September 15, 2015
What makes this such a great documentary? Simply put - it CHANGED my mind.
Also - I didn't think I'd like the film. When I read the synopsis on the cover - I thought, "This horrible schmuck poured acid on his wife's face, intentionally to disfigure, blind, and possibly KILL her! This son-of-a-bitch belongs in prison for the rest of his life!"
But after I watched this DVD, I had a slight change of heart!
What could possibly change my mind? You'll need to watch it to find out! And you might not agree with me! And again - that's one of the elements that makes this such a fantastic DVD. Two people can watch it, and come away with two very different takes.
on August 25, 2008
Of all human traits, "love" is probably the least easy to categorize or define. We like to believe that it comes in all shapes, sizes and forms, but is there a limit beyond which the definition simply cannot go, a type of feeling that, though it may resemble love on the surface, is, in reality, an entity quite different from the actual thing? Without setting out to do so, Burt Pugach and Linda Riss are two individuals who have truly done their best to redefine "love" on their own terms.
Almost from the outset, the story of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss had all the ingredients of a classic tabloid sensation: romance, jealousy, rage, obsession, disfigurement, imprisonment, reconciliation and redemption, all wrapped around a crime of passion that would shock and horrify the nation. And this would turn out to be no run-of-the-mill, here-today/gone-tomorrow type of scandal, either, for it would flourish over the course of no fewer than five full decades, from the late 1950's to the mid 1990's. Now, straight out of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction file comes the documentary "Crazy Love" to provide us with a brilliant and mind-blowing account of their story.
This disturbing and fascinating film begins in 1957, when a lawyer from the Bronx named Burt Pugach met and fell in love with a beautiful, yet naïve, young woman named Linda Riss. Though at first carried away by this man's easy flowing charm and wealth, Linda tried to back out of the relationship when she discovered that he was already married and had apparently no intention of ever asking his wife for a divorce. Unable to live with Linda's rejection, Burt quickly became a stalker, going so far as to hire three men to go to Linda's house and throw lye into her face, resulting in almost total blindness for the unsuspecting girl. A sensationalistic trial then ensued, resulting in imprisonment for Burt and a life of loneliness for Linda. Yet, baby, you ain't seen nothing' yet - for it's from here on out that things REALLY start to get crazy.
Suffice it to say that, when all is said and done, "Crazy Love" will leave you gaping in stunned silence - or at least scratching your head in amazement at the mind-boggling truths it reveals about human nature. This film conjures up a whole host of contradictory responses in the audience, making us question just how exactly we are supposed to feel about these two individuals and the relationship they've somehow managed to forge out of all this madness. Is Burt simply a raving maniac who can`t tell the difference between love and obsession, or is there some basic element of decency in his character that might allow him to find true forgiveness and redemption for his crime? Is Linda merely a hapless victim drawn to the man who's abused her, or is she a calculating opportunist willing to do what it takes to obtain some security and love in this world? Or does she - in some weird way and despite all he`s done to her - actually love the man? What's admirable, from an artistic standpoint, is that the movie doesn't answer any of those questions for us. Instead, we are lured into this crazy, topsy-turvy world of inverted values, then forced to find our own way back out of it - if we can.
Writer/director Dan Klores has structured his film in a way that is particularly effective for anyone not yet acquainted with the story. He begins by relating the initially rather mundane details of this romance in strictly chronological order, with no real inkling of the darkness that is to come, leaving us to question after awhile just why this particular story and this particular couple merit all this attention. It isn't until about twenty or thirty minutes into the film that he finally lowers the boom on us, and we come to realize the significance of the tale he is relating. He does this again later in the story (yes, there is a second major boom to drop), as we watch in spellbound amazement as one astonishing layer after another is slowly peeled off the onion.
With an abundance of photos and film clips - along with songs popular at the time playing on the soundtrack - Klores is able to bring the various eras in which this all took place to vivid life. But, obviously, his key selling point is the numerous interviews he was able to glean with people intimately connected to the story - including Burt and Linda themselves. Nobody could ever probably fully comprehend their relationship and the fact that it somehow "works" for them may say more about human nature than we may indeed care to know.
Still, there's no doubt that this is one movie that will have you thinking long and hard about it for days or possibly even weeks after it's over.