It took Dan Klores only three years to make the documentary “Crazy Love.” But in a way, you also could say it took him nearly 50 years.
He was only 9 years old during the summer of 1959 when the story of Burton Pugach and Linda Riss dominated the front pages of the New York City papers. Most youngsters don’t make a habit of reading the daily paper, and few of them remember the stories half a century later. But this was no normal story.
Burt Pugach, Linda Pugach
(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 1 Jun 2007 (Limited release); 2007)
“It left an imprint because it was so horrible,” he said. “Day after day, that’s all we’d read about. It had everything: love, romance, obsession, violence. And it ended with a man blinding a woman because she wouldn’t marry him. That is not something you easily forget.”
The memories came flooding back when a newspaper article mentioned the case in passing. He was wrapping up the editing on a made-for-cable documentary, “Viva Baseball,” and he was starting to wonder what project he should tackle next. He realized that he had just found it.
He started by gathering background information, including the transcripts from trials. Then he talked to people who had been there.
“I interviewed every secondhand source I could think of, from lawyers to psychiatrists,” he said. “I ended up with 150 hours of interviews.”
But he knew that the only way the movie would work was if the two main subjects agreed to appear onscreen. And that was just for starters. He’d also need to find a way to get them to talk about what had happened.
“It turned out that Burt and Linda were very, very open,” he said. “It took a while. You start out talking about things like baseball, and hope they loosen up. I interviewed them for a total of 20 hours, and after a while, they would go just about anywhere I wanted.”
When he finally hunkered down in an editing booth to watch all the footage he’d shot, he was surprised how well his childhood memories had held up.
“That’s not to say that there weren’t some surprises,” he said. “But the story turned out pretty much the way I had outlined it from the beginning.”