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Linda Riss in the late 1950s
Photo: Magnolia Pictures and Shoot the Moon Productions

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Directed by: Dan Klores.
Produced by: Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens.
Photographed by: Wolfgang Held & Claudia Raschke-Robinson.
Edited by: David Zieff.
Music by: Douglas J. Cuomo.
Released by: Magnolia Pictures.
Country of Origin: USA. 92 min. Rated PG-13.

When have some people gotten their 15 minutes of fame already? Is six decades enough? Any sentient New Yorker reading the newspapers or watching TV between 1959 and 1997 knows the outlines of the disturbing soap opera of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss. And each time they were in the news, it was first shock, followed by disbelief, and then it was – them again? What now? For newcomers to the twists and turns, this convoluted saga of somebody done somebody wrong unfolds gradually in Crazy Love.

With the same style as his earlier documentary The Boys of 2nd Street Park, director Dan Klores is best at placing his subjects in their time and place of the outer boroughs of New York City. Well-chosen period stock footage and song selections from the 1930’s on bolster the memories of Burt and Linda and help depict the tantalizingly glamorous Manhattan nightlife that the 30-year-old scrawny lawyer used to entice lovely Linda, 10 years his junior, after he first fell in crazy love with her on a Bronx street corner in 1957. The couple’s contemporaries smile at how he had the band break into the song “Linda” when the couple entered a nightclub. Not only a prominent ambulance-chasing negligence attorney, Burt also had a brief foray as a film producer, illustrated with clips.

Then she tried to break up with him, for good reason. Linda, maturing in a pre-feminist age that is well-described here, and her articulate cousin and friends detail what dozens of Lifetime TV movies now pointedly define as the crime of stalking, how she went again and again to her local police precinct for protection and to court to file harassment charges as Burt’s intrusions and threats didn’t stop. Particularly insightful and pragmatic about women’s options at the time is the perspective of retired police officer Margaret Powers, herself a pioneer within a male-dominated environment, who guarded and befriended Linda after the notorious attack Burt engineered in 1959 that changed their lives forever. Newspapers today daily report violent attacks on women, causing the viewer recoil at Burt’s defensive and creepy posturing in his contemporary interviews. He doesn’t seem to understand this changed world when he runs afoul of the law again in 1996 with eerily similar behavior.

Klores doesn’t analyze the tabloid competition emblematic of New York City as an avid newspaper town, with passing glimpses of only some of the blaring headlines from such relics as the Journal-American and The New York Mirror and too few comments by colorful columnist Jimmy Breslin. The second and third acts of Burt and Linda’s sensationalistic relationship played out just when local TV news in the 1970’s and then national news programs in the 1990’s also turned to lurid headlines. Clips shown here include their appearances on Hard Copy and both the Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jessy Raphael programs.

Klores’s separate, frank interviews on their dysfunctional childhoods – Burt’s abusive mother and Linda’s dependence on an aunt and grandmother – are more in-depth and reveal more than the talk shows that only focused on their adult predicaments. The director presents more factual detail and corroborative evidence than was in the daily press, especially during those stretches when they were out of the public eye. But while the film opens with a quote about obsession from psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, Klores jumps around too much from that theme in trying to claim Burt and Linda’s significance – victims’ rights, tabloid media, vengeance, and so on – until we are only left with sympathy for their current purgatory in Queens as a kind of sad justice for their long, torturous relationship. Nora Lee Mandel
June 1, 2007



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