Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens' absorbing new documentary Crazy Love begins with the flourish of a David Lynch set piece. It hums with banal and frighteningly disembodied dialogue and out-of-focus colors and shapes. A muted trumpet wails over tribal drums. The picture quickly drains into the normal channels of documentary filmmaking, but the odd vibe of the opening moments is entirely apt when Burt and Linda Pugach, the film's principal narrators, sit back and tell the remarkable story of what could only be called their courtship.
In the 1950s, Burt Pugach was a rich, legendary New York ambulance-chaser and womanizer who one day happened to spot local beauty Linda Riss. Pugach grew so infatuated with Riss that when she ran off to Florida to escape his endless advances, he hired men to throw lye in her face. (To explain this, Burt and Linda's friends repeat that vengeful piece of folklore justice: "If he couldn't have her, no one could.") After 15 years in jail, Pugach was released. Linda was still single. He married her less than a year later. Today, the two of them play out their days as a bickering old married couple, frequenting diners and needling each other for lack of anything better to do.
To call their story a love story is an indigestible joke to most people, even those who cannot imagine being without their loved one. But to call the Pugachs' story dull or impossible or even far-fetched is to ignore the charred and twisted hunks of scrap that can be forged from the metalworks of human passion. Yet it's a story that no longer carries heat or meaning; nearly half a century down the line, Burt and Linda explain their own bizarre behavior with a disarming, who-the-hell-cares flippancy. They seem to be telling their stories about someone they've read about, and they never betray any of the emotions — fear, affection, or blind, frothing insanity — that might provide some clue. When they putter around together for 10 minutes near the end of the film, it's as weird and unlikely as seeing two hippos having sex.
Although their testimonials create a mood of gallows humor about the whole mess, their faces betray deeper physical and emotional scars. Behind her dark glasses, Linda's eyebrows flicker constantly and involuntarily when she talks, as though she can't quite believe what she's saying or that she's saying it in such a casual manner. Burt's voice remains for the most part calm and controlled, but his head repeatedly nods from side to side, as though he's avoiding invisible jabs from an unseen sparring partner.
Crazy Love isn't really about love, but it offers a vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald's long-dreamed-of second act in American lives, where crooked, crazy Gatsby actually gets vapid, irritating Daisy and fulfills his mad wish to be with her forever, only he could never admit to himself that she liked his money more than she liked him. Crazy Love whirs along with a nosy tabloid juiciness, a well-made, dime-store page-turner that's as disposable and harmfully satisfying as a hot fudge sundae.
Opening Friday, June 29th