The eyeglasses are horrible. As is the hair. She's loud, and her painted-on eyebrows twitch while she's nattering away at the camera, stopping only to light one of the lady-long cigarettes she chain smokes. You see pictures of her from the old days in the 1950s, when she was a dark-haired, buxom dish from the Bronx in chest-hugging sweaters, and it's hard to reconcile those images and the ones you're seeing in uncomfortable close-up, talking about the old days. She's bristling and unapologetic, the kind of woman who would yell at you (actually yell) in the supermarket for getting in her way. Her relatives and friends who are brought on to talk about her whirlwind romance and the tragedy that stopped it, at least for a few years, are just as brassy. The pure definition of broads. All of which makes it even more of a shock when you realize that she's not wearing the sunglasses for effect, but because she's blind. Not only that, she was blinded. By the man who supposedly loved her. Who she then married. And is still married to today.
Co-directors Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens' reserved and respectful yet utterly transfixing documentary Crazy Love documents the decades-long odyssey that was the tortured relationship of Linda Riis and Burt Pugach, a couple of Bronx kids who indulged in what may have been the perfect tabloid relationship. Perfect for the tabloids, at least. Burt was ten years older than Linda, and already a gadfly-about-New York in 1957 when he met the 20-year-old Linda. A good girl with a reputation for being a tease, Linda was immediately taken with Burt, who, despite his nebbish appearance was a wealthy, womanizing, hotshot lawyer specializing in negligence cases (less charitable souls would characterize him as an ambulance chaser) who ran his own nightclub and frequented many others, always in a hot car and usually with an adoring Linda on his arm.
It's a lovely romance, chronicled in faded snapshots and jittery home movies, rouged up with swoony period love songs; Burt even has the house band at his club strike up the song "Linda" every time the two of them waltz in. But of course things don't go on that way. Burt has secrets, Linda doesn't like them. Things escalate beyond all possible comprehension, something made all the more incongruous by the fact that most of the principals involved in it (Burt, Linda, various associates) are sitting around today and rather calmly chatting about things that are the stuff of screaming tabloid headlines. The filmmakers sock you with one revelation after another, never quite going for the overkill of ridiculousness themselves, just leaving that to their subjects, each of whom have advanced degrees in crazy, Burt even more so than the unnervingly blasé Linda.
Amidst all the escalating mania -- nicely commented on in a few short wry moments from Jimmy Breslin -- some quite serious questions are actually dealt with in admirable fashion. Namely, how far can love take you, what are the limits of forgiveness, and when does realism have to trump morality. It's in these moments that the documentary moves from being just an exceptionally well-structured real-life tale of a crime (well, crimes) of passion to being one that makes a decent effort to actually understand its subjects; before realizing that there is very likely no possible way of understanding them. Klores and Stevens had to call the film Crazy Love, because there is simply no other combination of words in the English language that could quite so perfectly capture what it's about. Crazy love. A whole lot of it.
Baby, it's cold out there.