I was surprised when the audience burst out laughing time and again during Dan Klores' documentary Crazy Love. They were laughing at various reprehensible pronouncements made in all seriousness by Burt Pugach, the abusive half of a marriage that was made famous in the tabloids in 1959 when Burt, an already married man and a corrupt lawyer, hired three men to throw acid into the beautiful face of his then ex-girl friend Linda Riss.
The relationship of Burt and Linda Pugach, well-known to some, played out in the public eye: Burt courted Linda under false pretenses. When Linda decided to move on, Burt stalked her, harassed her, and finally, when learning of her engagement to another man, blinded the so-called love of his life to render her unsuitable for any other man. Linda was beautiful. The numerous old photos and bits of actual film footage make painfully clear why her tragic story made headlines.
Convicted, Pugach spent fourteen years in prison. Upon his early release, he was interviewed on live television, where he once again proclaimed his enduring love and proposed marriage. Encouraged by friends, Linda - disfigured, poor, and virtually alone - accepted. However, she did and does not claim to love him. They entered into a less than harmonious married life and ended up back in the tabloids twenty years later, when Burt threatened to murder his latest mistress. Linda stood by her man.
According to the press notes, Crazy Love
is an examination of the complex human heart — exploring the nature of love, obsession, and forgiveness. Klores certainly did his research, presenting his subjects' backgrounds, interviewing numerous old and current friends, and providing ample archival data. But somehow, the film never gets to the truth. Linda tells her story from a distance, hidden behind the cat's eye sunglasses that shield her disfigurement. Burt, on the other hand, has a fine time in front of the camera, at liberty to tell his story without shame. Klores' documentary feels, strangely enough, like a celebration of Burt's revolting life.
What's missing from this unusual love story is love. Not once did I believe that Burt cared for Linda, the actual woman and not his idealized pin-up version. Linda was a victim of both a man and the times. Born in 1937, she came of age when women were expected to marry young and produce children. The police laughed at her when she was repeatedly harassed, and when Burt destroyed her pretty face, her marriage prospects dwindled to zero. The reconciliation with the man who maimed her was an act of survival.