The 2007 documentary Crazy Love from director Dan Klores tells the most bizarre true story of any movie I’ve seen in the last several years.
The story is told through interviews with the principals-Burt and Linda Pugash-as well as other people in their lives. There are also more contemporaneous photos and home movie type video than one would expect, given that many of the events in question happened in the 1950s. The use of these and other supplementary visuals, the music, the pacing, etc. are quite well done. The early portion of the film is a little slower, as for awhile it’s not at all clear why a movie was made about these people, but even that early portion is suspenseful in that there are strong hints that something big is coming.
Then again, many viewers, even if they didn’t read about the film in detail in advance, might well already be familiar with the story from real life. I was not.
I could guess it was going to be some kind of crime, probably something horrific or crazy or both. Both of the main characters seem a little “off,” especially Burt as more information is revealed. So in time it becomes more predictable-but only in very general terms-what the “big thing” is likely to be.
One element that makes it a little tougher to predict is that the characters themselves, and most or all of the other interviewees, don’t speak as if whatever happened was all that traumatizing, or as if there is remaining hostility between Burt and Linda, or to or from others.
Indeed, when what happened finally is revealed (which I’ll refrain from spoiling here), this very casualness is one of the most truly bizarre things about the film. Surprisingly often in the interviews there’s an attitude of “Oh well, s*** happens,” or “But that’s water under the bridge now,” and you don’t know whether to laugh or be appalled at the disproportion between what happened and how they now speak of it.
In fact, that’s kind of true of the movie as a whole. There are elements of the story that are so psychologically or otherwise weird that you almost can’t help laughing (e.g., “Of course after that, I didn’t call her for awhile”), but if you really reflect on what they’re talking about, this is some heavy material. So it works as black comedy, but also is the sort of stuff that can induce nightmares.
There’s also the question of sanity. Jimmy Breslin-who’s delightfully bemused and cynical as always-comments that in his over fifty years of reporting, he’d pick Burt as the single most insane person he’s come across who is not institutionalized. In a sense you see exactly what he means, and for that matter Linda’s decisions and comments at times seem at least as indicative of a very different kind of mental illness, but in other respects they seem utterly ordinary. And again, this is both in how they themselves come across in the interviews, and how others speak about them.
The movie reminds me just a little bit of Terry Zwigoff’s documentary Crumb for its treatment of eccentricity and mental illness. I found Crumb-both the movie and the person-somehow more interesting and likable overall, so I don’t put the films on the same level, but there is that same temptation to play armchair psychiatrist and try to figure out why these folks do and say certain things that are so unexpected or unconventional.
In the end, this documentary probably doesn’t amount to much, just an intriguing and weird trip into tabloid territory. But it’s done ably and with wit, and I think succeeds in being both entertaining and disturbing.