Doc of the Day: Crazy Love Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Crazy Love

Posted in Days of Docs by - April 19, 2012

Burt and Linda have had an… unusual romance.

Dir. Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens, 2007, 92 min

In a documentary, there’s a wobbly balance between bringing the stories of unusual people to the screen and exploiting freaks, and that line gets wobblier the further removed a doc’s characters are from the norm. Some filmmakers, like Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, thrive in this realm. Herzog’s seemingly bottomless empathy and Morris’s professional, investigative nature allow them to bring us the most extreme people without making fun of them. With Crazy Love, Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens are far less successful.

These guys have a pair of protagonists that Morris would kill for. In fact, Morris explored very similar territory with Tabloid, to much greater effect. Burt and Linda Pugach are a happily married, delightfully stereotypical New York Jewish couple. They’ve been together for over thirty years, and their relationship is still strong. It’s rather touching.

Sure, when they started seeing each other in 1959, he was married with a mentally disabled child, but his wife didn’t mind. And yeah, he promised he’d leave his wife, then didn’t, then relentlessly continued to pursue Linda when she broke up with him, but every relationship has hiccups. And so what if, after she continually rebuffed him and ended up getting engaged to another man, he hired thugs to hurl lye in her face? Love conquers all!

So yes, that title isn’t really an exaggeration. After he’d served a fourteen year prison term and she’d gone blind from her injuries, Burt and Linda eventually got back together and later married. The way they interact, you’d never guess what he’d done to her. None of their friends can wrap their heads around it. Neither can I, frankly. Nor can the filmmakers, it seems. I understand that reality is often too complex and messy to easily explain, but this movie’s attempt at figuring out this relationship is so thin it almost seems to just be a token effort. It’s as if they included question only because the directors realized it was expected of them to ask it.

They seem far more invested in wallowing in this sordid tale. And I can’t really blame them, since it’s so darkly riveting. Burt Pugach is one of the most magnetically repulsive documentary characters I’ve come across in a while. Even before the chronic infidelity and attempted murder, he was making tens of thousands of dollars a year off legal fraud. He’s switches obliviously between transparent denial and cavalier admission of his misdeeds. Linda, meanwhile, is a fascinating enigma. Whatever she has with Burt can’t be explained away with something as simple as “battered woman’s syndrome,” but it definitely isn’t healthy.

But if all I wanted was to read a strange-but-true story, I’d go to Cracked. We watch movies to illuminate some truth, right? There’s nothing going on beneath the surface of this doc. We’re no closer to figuring out Burt or Linda at the end of the film than we are at the beginning. Without some real analysis, this is nothing more than a piece of lurid sideshowism. Again, compare this with Tabloid, which connects its characters’ thought processes with their religious and cultural influences, and muses on the competing nature of different truths.

Crazy Love is extremely watchable in the moment, but the doc falls apart after you put any  thought into it. This movie doesn’t really have a heart for its characters; it just wants to make fun of them. And with such an inhumane core, how can this film truly mean anything? It can’t.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

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