Crazy Love: Klores’ Intriguing Docu

The French have a word for it, “Amour Fou,” literally meaning “Crazy Love.” It’s often used to describe a movie genre that concerns obsessive, both destructive and self-destructive love of two incompatible partners, sometimes on the run.

Dan Klores’ aptly titled documentary “Crazy Love” not only illustrates the French concept but also give semblance to the notion of non-fictional works as stranger than fiction. After premiering at the 2007 Sundance Film Fest in competition, “Crazy Love” played many festivals, including the 2007 Santa Barbara Film Fest, where it earned the Best Documentary Award.

The film tell a truly bizarre and astonishing story of the obsessive relationship of Burt and Linda Pugach, which shocked the country in the summer of 1959. Burt, 32, was a married attorney, and Linda, 20, a single, beautiful girl living in the Bronx. They began a whirlwind romance, which culminated in violence and psychologically complex actions, landing their sensational saga on the covers of newspapers and magazines.

Docu benefits greatly from the cooperation of the principles, Burt, now 79, and Linda, 68. Dan Klores (also known as a film publicist) examines the concepts of love, obsession, insanity, hope, and forgiveness. It would take several pages just to describe the basic facts of this scandalous case, thus I include them in another essay.

Burt married his first wife Francine Rifkin in 1951, and Cary, their only, retarded, child was born three years later. In the fall of 1957, Burt and Linda meet on Rosh Hashanna (Jewish New Year) at Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx. After a passionate romance, Linda breaks up with Burt in 1958, when her mother checks papers for the alleged Alabama divorce and discovers it’s a fraud. Unfazed, Burt enlists his actor friend Keefe Brasell to woo Linda back. He forces Linda to go to a doctor to prove she’s still a virgin, which she is. Promises of divorce never materialize, however, despite threats from Linda.

Meanwhile, Burt’s firm is investigated by the Bronx County Bar Association’s Special Committee on Professional Conduct and charges it with illegal fee splitting to obtain cases. In December 1958, Linda goes to the 42nd Precinct and tells detectives about Burt’s threatening behavior, but the police refuse to press charges. Breaking up with Burt, Linda announces her engagement to Larry Schwartz, while Burt continues to harass her.

The fateful event that forever sealed their bond occurs on June 15, 1959, when Burt’s hireling Heard Harden arrives at Linda’s apartment posing as a messenger and throwing at her lye from a mayonnaise jar.

After three months, Linda, having lost sight, is released from Medical Arts Center Hospital. In October 1959, Bronx detectives arrest Burt on assault and gun possession charges, but his lawyers set bail at $105,000, the highest ever in a Bronx criminal case.

Following numerous trials, an all-male jury finds Burt and Harden guilty on Maiming (3 counts), Assault 2nd degree (2 counts), Conspiracy, and 2nd Degree Burglary. Judge Martinis sends Burt to Kings County Hospital for psychiatric examination, and after months of hearing, the former delivers a verdict, “The court is constrained to find the defendant legally sane.

In March 1974, Burt is given parole after spending 14 years in prison, and seven days later, he proposes to Linda–on-camera. In November, Burt and Linda are married during a civil service in Queens’ Kew Gardens Court Building. In 1990, Linda loses what little remains of the eyesight in her left eye after undergoing heart surgery.

In October 1996, Burt’s mistress Evangeline Borja breaks off their relationship, and calls the NYPD to complain about his threatening her, leading to Burt’s arrest and arraignment. A forgiving Linda then posts bail with $50,000 in cash and Burt is released. On the same day, Attorney Richard A. Brown tells the press that Burt hired someone to kill Evangeline. Burt is jailed again, after allegedly violating an order of protection prohibiting him from entering the building where he works, which is the building Evangeline works in. He spends eight more days in jail. A trial begins in April 1997, during which Linda appears as a character witness for the defense. A jury then acquits Burt of the 10 most serious charges, only finding him guilty of a misdemeanor, harassment in the 2nd degree.

If Klores’ feature would not have been described as a docu, viewers might have thought it was a sleazy noir fiction, the kind of which makes the front pages of airport tabloids. However, based on extensive research of books (one by Berry Stainback ) and records from the courts, the police, the physicians, and the prison system, the film is extremely well-documented, giving a concrete flavor of the dramatic persona, both lead and secondary, as well as the lengthy era (four decades), during which the tragic-comic saga unfolds.

Klores had interviewed Burt and Linda several times, separately and together, and both are open and candid, and occasionally moving and even funny in reconstructing their past up-and-down lives and twisty romance. (At Sundance, the director revealed that the only thing Linda refused to do was to remove her glasses, saying: I have a glass eye, and the other eye is inverted, and I must look like a freak.”). There are other interesting characters, aside from Burt and Linda, such as Sylvia Hoffman, Linda’s first cousin, who still lives in Brooklyn as an orthodox Jew.

The twists and turns in the narrative are gradually revealed in a dramatic way that makes the film suspenseful; you sit and watch in a state of disbelief. Klores captures the psychological disabilities of his character’s childhood, Linda’s initial innocence and romantic rapture, Burt’s courtship and obsession.

To Klores’ credit, the docu’s central, complex and intriguing question, of why did Linda stick with Burt all those decades, is not answered simplistically, allowing for various interpretations. But he does offer some illuminating glimpses that have to do with the specific era and its zeitgeist, a pre-feminist time when women were unprotected, and in which there was no such thing as “stalking”; it was a word, but it didn’t pertain to men following and harming women.

The story is rooted in a time when women had limited opportunities. Initially, to Linda, Burt being a lawyer was akin to royalty and immunity, a professional to listen to and honored. Living in the Bronx, having been a sheltered girl who grew up in foster families with only women, Linda might have been seduced by
Burt’s offering the allure of exciting nightlife, going to Manhattan, to the Latin Quarter, to the Copacabanain a Convertible Cadillacsymbols of upward mobility and the America Dream that were way beyond the reach of her class and her family.