Crazy Love has a tabloid story to kill for, and a basic nonfiction form to snooze over. Dan Klores’s documentary recounts the headline-making tale of 32-year-old lawyer Burt Pugach and 20-year-old Bronx girl Linda Riss, whose whirlwind romance was abruptly halted in 1959 when Burt, having been spurned by Linda because he wouldn’t leave his wife, hired three men to blind her with acid. Sixteen years later, the largely sightless Linda agreed to marry a paroled Burt, completing a fantastical saga that Klores’s film wants to paint as a case study in obsession, devotion, and forgiveness, but fails to depict as anything more than the sensationalistic account of two lunatics in love.
Whereas a doc like last year’s Cocaine Cowboys melded a flashy, gaudy aesthetic to its outrageous subject matter, Crazy Love dampens much of its bizarre particulars with blandly functional talking-head interviews and archival photos and newspaper front pages. His portrait proving exhaustively researched, Klores gets virtually everyone of note—including, most of all, his two principals—to speak on record. However, Burt’s lack of remorse while discussing both the assault and his generally fanatical behavior, as well as Linda’s inability to articulate a sane motive to go back to the creep, largely stymies any empathy. Friends who were horrified by the original attack concede that Linda’s marriage might be a good thing because, after all, her injury had left her isolated and unhappy, a line of reasoning that speaks less to the complicated nature of love than to said chums’ narrow-minded and condescending attitude toward the handicapped (who, they infer, can’t hope to do better than shack up with the psychos who maimed them).
Simply by virtue of its topic, Klores’s film is consistently gripping, and Burt and Linda’s frankness in discussing the incident, their rollercoaster relationship, and their troubled upbringings provides insight into the complex psychological web of abuse, self-loathing, feelings of inadequacy, and social awkwardness that contributed to such a strange scenario. Yet it’s ultimately hard to extrapolate something insightful or affecting about human behavior or emotion from the anti-fairy tale of Burt and Linda, two people whom legendary Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin accurately (and not reductively) sums up as “criminally insane.”