Crazy Love / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | June 1, 2007 | Comments ()
I had the good fortune to see Crazy Love earlier this year at Sundance, and I say “good fortune” only because, at the time, I knew absolutely nothing about the lives of Burt and Linda Pugach, which lent at least a modicum of suspense to the retelling of their … um … love affair. Back in the 1960s, they were the tabloid couple du jour — their love life dominated the headlines of papers like the New York Mirror for several years, as their batshit insane relationship grew increasingly batshittier. They were, and now are, the poster geriatrics for fucked up, codependently abusive relationships. Linda has got some serious issues — like Stockholm Syndrome serious — while Burt is one of the vilest, adulterating narcissists you’ll ever have the displeasure to observe. God’s honest: This guy makes Ike Turner look like a box of kittens meowing “Proud Mary.”
Unfortunately, the problem is that in 2007 the Pugachs’ relationship probably wouldn’t seem all that atypical on a show like Jerry Springer (they were, in fact, guests on the old “Geraldo”) — they were a precursor to Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher or Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, just another couple who love each other through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, and acid-throwing dementia - near-homicidal domestic violence be damned. The documentary tries to give their sickening love affair some sort of historical weight to counterbalance the E! True Hollywood sensationalism of it all. But, as now Burt is approaching his 80s (Linda is still a hard 68), it’s somewhat difficult to get to terribly worked up over their story — old people aren’t whackjobs, they’re cute, right? Isn’t it adorable how, back in the early days of their courtship, Burt threw lye in Linda’s face and permanently blinded her! Look at the sweet old couple!
The point is, if you’re already familiar with specifics of Burt and Linda’s relationship, there’s really not much sense in seeing Crazy Love — the documentary simply retells the entire disasterbacle through interviews with modern-day Burt and Linda, adding in images to enliven the monologues — old photos, newspaper headlines, home movies, and archival footage. Unless you’re doing your PhD thesis on codependence and you feel the need to study the nuances of the couple’s talking styles (or the crazed ticky-tacky decor of their home), there’s not much more you can glean from the documentary than you could by simply reading about their story online — the New York Times condenses it all down into two pages, which are equally as fascinating as the documentary, without any of the time or expense it takes to attend a screening.
For those of you unfamiliar with their lives and who want to walk into the film blind (aha, that’s right — like Linda does every day), I have no idea what might motivate you to go see Crazy Love (I might understand, for some people, the memory-lane appeal), but because a proper review requires some discussion of the narrative, consider yourself spoiler-warned from here on out.
Crazy Love tracks the demented love affair between Burt, a former big-time blockbuster lawyer with some small Hollywood industry cred as a producer, and Linda, formerly a young and stylish Bronx girl with movie-star good looks. Burt began his hard-sell courtship of Linda in the late ’50s, buying her flowers, taking her out to expensive dinners, flying her around the country, sweeping her off her feet, yada yada yada. The problem, however, was that Burt was already married, and after tiring of trying to convince him to leave his wife, Linda eventually broke off the relationship and got engaged to another man. Burt, a fella who firmly believed that if he couldn’t have something, no one could, hired three men to throw lye in her face, disfiguring her and leaving her permanently blind. Her fiancé, an amiable enough man, nevertheless abandoned her as “damaged goods.”
The second part of their courtship began, in earnest, while Burt was in prison — sentenced for 14 years for the lye incident. During his imprisonment, Burt managed to woo Linda from inside his cell by pouring his heart out through obsessive (no, pathological) letters. Linda, blind and disfigured and without a lot of options out in the dating market, decided, after Burt came up for parole, to take the son of a bitch back, and he eventually proposed to her on national television. So then they lived happily ever after — except, of course, for all the messed up bullshit that Burt continued to pull on Linda, after which she repeatedly excused his behavior and took him back. I mean — what else is she gonna do, right?
Well, she could’ve left him, I suppose, but then she wouldn’t have been able to obtain the small level of fame and notoriety she has received from the tabloids, local newscasts, and talk shows, each and every goddamn time Burt screwed up and made the news, at which point the media piddled all over themselves to capture the latest in their tortured, codependent relationship. And that’s really what’s so disconcerting about the documentary — the two get off on how publicly fucked up their love life is. As Crazy Love suggests and the Times piece confirms, Linda seems positively bored with her life now that Burt is presumably too old and impotent to spread his seed or knock her around a little. As a young woman, Linda wanted to be an actress (which is part of what drew her to Burt in the first place), and you can see why in Crazy Love: She’s a fame whore — the week I was at Sundance, in fact, you could spot the two proudly walking around wearing fur coats, gloating at the attention that was once again being heaped upon them. Throughout the last 50 years, the two have managed to resuscitate their 15 minutes of fame every so often, and they don’t seem to care about what it takes to procure it. Indeed, old man or not, by the end of Crazy Love I just wanted to forcefully wipe the satisfied grin off Burt’s face; he seemed so thoroughly smug and pleased with himself, as if to say, Hey! I threw acid in my wife’s face, permanently blinding her, and she still took me back. Top that, bitches.
Aside from all of that, Crazy Love isn’t a particularly absorbing film either, except in that Grey Gardens sort of way — there’s a certain sick joy in watching two people revel in the way that they’ve made mockeries of their lives. The narrative, too, is poorly paced, full of unnecessary digressions that only belabor the lurid accounts. But the biggest reason I wouldn’t recommend seeing Crazy Love is not the film itself — it’s the idea that you’d be feeding the beast, rewarding the couple by buying into the glorification of violence against women. And that, in my mind, is the film’s unspoken subtext: If you viciously mistreat and sadistically disfigure your wife, you might get lucky and have a movie made about your life. Personally, I’d just as soon sit through Norbit again as support that notion.
*FYI — The title comes from Jimmy Fallon’s lone remarkable contribution to the annals of pop culture, and it’s totally worth the view (“Hey baby: You like fine cooking — I gotta Swanson’s dinner in the freezer with your name on it.”) It should keep you preoccupied until the Knocked Up review comes along later today.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.