Whoa. Crazy Love moves into first place as the most bizarre story of any of the films I’ve written about so far. (Most bizarre true story anyway—this is a documentary.)
I’m actually glad I hadn’t read about the film in detail ahead of time. As I recall, all I knew about it going in is that it had to do with a crazy, dysfunctional relationship, and that it was a sensationalist story that had dominated the tabloids at the time. It was better to discover the subject matter gradually through the film itself.
The story is told through interviews with the principals—Burt and Linda—as well as other people in their lives. There are also more contemporary photos and home movie type video than you’d expect, since 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 in my opinion. The early portion is a little slower, as for a while it’s not at all clear why a movie was made about these people, but overall the film held my interest at a moderate or above level throughout.
Even that early portion is interesting in that you know something big is coming, so you’re curious to see what it is and to look for clues in the meantime, assuming, like me, you weren’t already familiar with the story from when it happened in real life.
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,” but Burt more so 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 thing that made it a little tougher 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 some remaining hostility between them, or to or from others.
Indeed, when what happened finally is revealed, this very casualness is one of the most truly bizarre things about the film. It’s not all the time, but pretty darn often in the interviews there’s an attitude of “Oh well, shit 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 psychologically or otherwise weird in a way that you almost can’t help laughing (e.g., “Of course after that, I didn’t call her for a while”), but if you really reflect on what they’re talking about, this is some heavy shit. 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 sane to the point of utter ordinariness. 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 Crumb for its treatment of eccentricity and mental illness. I found Crumb—both the movie and the person—more interesting and likable overall, so I don’t put the films on the same level, but there is that same encouragement to play armchair psychiatrist and try to figure out why these folks do and say certain things that are so unexpected or unconventional.
There are at least two important characters that would have been very relevant to interview that were left out. I assume that’s because they’re long since dead or refused to participate, but I’d still like to have learned more about their take on things, even if it had to come indirectly from interviewing people they talked to in the intervening years about the events in question, or from interviews or statements they made back at the time. But maybe there was no more even of that indirect material available than appears in the film.
In the end, Crazy Love 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.