‘Crazy Love’ offers a riveting tale of obsession
Filmmaker Dan Klores sets his hook in the first minute of his third Sundance documentary "Crazy Love."
"Everyone is screaming around me," says Linda Riss, as a haunting musical score by Doug Cuomo and performed by trumpeter Chris Botti, jazz pianist Billy Childs and drummer Bobby Columby promises the ensuing story will be full of intrigue.
Cut to Burt Pugach, recalling the day he first saw the object of his future life’s obsession. "I had never seen a girl as beautiful as that."
Audiences are then entrapped by beautifully intercut scenes of a heady romance set in the Bronx in the 1950s.
Linda was indeed beautiful, though her narration, filmed 50-plus years later, constantly suggests the relationship with her eager suitor is doomed. Old photos and early black-and-white film clips of vintage cars and clothing alternate with footage of Riss today, a chain smoking heavily made-up elderly woman wearing an obvious wig and opaque rhinestone studded sunglasses.
Through contemporary interviews with Riss, Pugach, their friends and relatives, Klores carefully reconstructs a relationship that is at once repelling and fascinating.
"At first I thought this was a story about obsession. Then I started to think about the first time I had my heart broken and for the next two years I asked myself, when am I going to start feeling better, when am I going to stop thinking about her these are things you don’t share with others .I realized it’s not merely a film about obsession, a big part of it is what we do not to be alone," says Klores whose film was chosen to be in this year’s Sundance Documentary Competition.
Klores remembers the media frenzy surrounding the news that Burt Pugach a well connected New York lawyer had hired hitmen to throw acid in the face of his beautiful gilfriend on the eve of her wedding to another man. Klores was nine years old and the memory remained tucked away until three years ago when a small tidbit in the New York Times caught his eye.
It was an inconsequential feature in the local section of the paper but it roused his curiousity. "I hadn’t thought about it in 40 years," he said.
No stranger to the documentary filmmaking process, Klores hired a private investigator to find Riss and Pugach.Then, of course, he says he had to convince them to share their stories. Along the way he also found, and interviewed the couple’s friends from before and after the attack, medical and court records and a rich cinematic trove of photos, film clips and music recordings from the era.
Klores was dogged in his search for details about every nuance of the relationship which took a number of surprising turns over the next four decades At one point, Klores tracks down the husband of Pugach’s first wife who he said would not talk to him face to face. "I paid the doorman $20 to let me in and I conducted the interview through the building’s intercom," he said.
Those who see the film in Park City this week, no doubt, will squirm. Some will likely question the filmmakers’ somewhat sympathetic treatment of Pugach, whose jealous rage blinded and permanently disfigured Riss. But they will also be captivated by Riss’ candor and her unadulterated retelling of a story that according to New York journalist Jimmy Breslin (also interviewed in the film) called "the first real victim’s impact statement in the city."
Meanwhile, filmmakers in the audience will certainly admire Klores’ craftsmanship. Visually, musically and in the editing of the story , "Crazy Love" is a compelling documentary.
Crazy Love premieres Friday with a screening at 6:15 p.m. at Holiday Village Cinema III.
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