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Crazy Love

I think most women hate being stalked. I may be going out on a limb here, but I plan on standing behind that statement. A guy you aren’t that into calling, writing crazy and threatening letters, and lurking around your office is probably pretty annoying and scary. Even way back in 1959, that type of behavior was frowned upon by polite society. Scary though it may be, stalking is not that uncommon, so an entire documentary about one case would, at first glance, seem a little overboard. But the amazing events from 48 years ago told by the participants and witnesses in Crazy Love aren't common in any way.

The case involved a lawyer (his friend refers to him as an ambulance chaser) named Burt Pugach who, although married, fell head over heels in love with a pretty young woman named Linda Riss in 1957 New York. Pugach demonstrated early on that he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer and seemed to wear down the younger Riss (he was 32, she was 20.) Eventually, Riss became aware of the inconvenient fact that Pugach was married and told him to get a divorce or get lost. He didn’t and she dumped him. Good move on every level except for the fact that he was nuts. His usual jilted boyfriend level stalking went into overdrive when Riss got engaged to another guy and Pugach lashed out at her in a pretty shocking manner.

The manner of his lashing out and the aftermath form the core of why the relationship between Pugach and Riss rises above the typical stalker-stalkee experience. It was tabloid fodder for months at the time it happened. It’s better to go into the movie unaware of all the history, but let’s just say that Riss is one pretty forgiving woman. Or there could be another factor at work. The title of Crazy Love is only half right. There is a lot of crazy in this movie, but not so much love.

Director/producer Dan Klores and co-director Fisher Stevens (yeah, that actor guy you see in stuff) have assembled a pretty straightforward documentary. Burt and Linda do talking head interviews of their childhood, early meetings, relationship, break-up, and the events that followed. Friends and family members add their insights and remembrances as well. Klores and Stevens use pictures, music, occasional home movies, stock footage from the 50’s and 60’s, and tabloid headlines to break up the shots of people talking about events from nearly a half century ago. It’s no easy task and the weakness of the movie is that it relies mostly on sitting and listening to a story.

Fortunately, the story is a stunner. It’s mostly Burt and Linda’s show. Pugach has been quoted in the press recently as hoping this movie “humanizes” him. It’s a testament to his raging narcissism that he could watch a movie where his own words and actions make him seem to be a borderline sociopath and feel that would give people a positive impression. A man interviewed says he likes Burt and considers him a friend and then shrugging says “even Hitler had friends.” Although grudgingly admitting his past wrongs, Pugach blames the legal system for the problems he caused himself. It’s truly a fascinating look at a lucid and seemingly harmless (even at times goofy) person who, looking at everything from an obsessive stalker point of view, doesn’t think he’s done much outside the ordinary.

Riss on the other hand, comes across as a very sad story. Shown in early pictures as a beautiful and happy-go-lucky young woman, her whole life has been limited by her chance meeting with Pugach back in 1957. Her first brush with Burt left her unable to become involved in other relationships and when she crosses paths with him again, she has become a stalker’s dream come true. Reliant on his support because his actions have cut her off from others, her current relationship with Pugach doesn’t come across as motivated by love or forgiveness but rather a need for financial security. She’s often a hoot though, as she talks pretty straight about almost every subject under the sun.

Despite the sometimes shocking and depressing relationship between Burt and Linda, their story is often funny (sometimes just looking at their friends or former acquaintances is enough to elicit laughs) and the movie ends on more of a hopeful rather than dispiriting note. Your reaction after the credits roll might be a rueful shake of the head and an unbelieving chuckle rather than feeling sad or angry about the things Burt Pugach has put Linda Riss through over the last 50 years. It's hard to believe that there's any love between these two people, but the retelling of their unique tale is certainly a way to show your significant other that your relationship isn’t all that bad.