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Thursday, April 28, 2011

CRAZY LOVE -- movie review by porfle

It's the same old love story you've heard a million times--boy meets girl, boy falls madly, obsessively in love with girl, girl eventually becomes creeped out by boy and gets engaged to another guy, boy freaks out and hires thugs to throw acid in girl's face.  Okay...maybe we haven't heard this one that many times.

There's enough material right there for a pretty good story, but CRAZY LOVE (2007) just keeps getting crazier.  This has got to be the most bizarre love story I've ever heard, or at least in the top three.  It's all true, too--nobody could make this stuff up.  And, like Forrest Gump or Zelig, the strange saga of Burt and Linda is laced with famous people and historical events that make it even more compelling.  But before it's all over, they're pretty famous themselves.

It all started the day a young ambulance-chasing lawyer and B-movie producer named Burt Pugach, described by one interviewee as resembling the nebbishy actor Arnold Stang, laid eyes on a beautiful young woman name Linda Niss on a street corner in the Bronx back in 1957.  Burt's aggressively full-throttle courtship of Linda began immediately, and while she wasn't nearly as taken with him, his extravagant lifestyle was attractive to her--until she found out he was already married and his current wife had no intention of granting him a divorce.  With that, she ended their "engagement" and began to seek romance elsewhere.

Burt did not take this well.  What follows is an increasingly outrageous series of events that include the aforementioned acid incident, Burt's bizarre trial in which he served as his own defense and ended up in prison for several years (where he was almost killed during the Attica uprising), and his eventual parole, when--sure enough--he started stalking Linda all over again.

The present-day Burt, a normal-enough looking older guy, sits cheerfully recounting his craze-o past while you can almost see the image of his beloved Linda still swirling through his mind and lighting up his eyes.  Meanwhile, there sits a barely-recognizable Linda somewhere else (somewhere far away from Burt, we hope), "bald and blind" as a friend describes her, wearing an obvious wig and dark glasses, puffing a cigarette and giving her side of the story.  We aren't told the present circumstances of the two for a long time--it's an intriguing mystery that runs through most of the film and isn't resolved until the final act, which left me almost numb with disbelief. 

This offbeat documentary by Dan Klores, who gave us the excellent VIVA BASEBALL! two years earlier, and co-director Fisher Stevens, is loaded with on-camera interviews with many of the people involved, which are all smoothly linked together with old photographs and home movies of Burt and Linda, vintage stock footage from the New York State Archives and other sources, and lots of news footage.  There's also a killer soundtrack with songs from Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Edie Brickell, and several others, plus a cool original score by Douglas J. Cuomo, all nicely evocative of the period. 

But it's those interview segments with Burt and Linda that get ya the most, especially when CRAZY LOVE reaches its final minutes and the true craziness of the whole thing is finally revealed.  Everybody loves a love story, they say, but I'm not sure everybody's quite ready for this one.

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