Screened as part of NZIFF 2008
This brash, attention-grabbing documentary recounts a life-long tale of violently obsessive passion that has made headlines repeatedly over the decades. Burt Pugach was an ambulance-chasing lawyer and a night-club owning, Cadillac-driving, Manhattan playboy. When he first set eyes on Linda Riss in 1957, he had to have her. Every photo we see shows us why: she’s as lovely as the young Elizabeth Taylor, with a glowing sensuality and eyes to bask in. Impressed by his ardour and status, Linda went along for the ride, but there were certain standards she would not abandon for Burt and she ultimately fled into the arms of a nicer, working class guy. Burt, obsessed, paid thugs to have her blinded. The case made headlines. Burt made headlines again when, having served his sentence, he appeared on national TV and proposed to Linda. This is where the story becomes truly breathtaking. There were many more headlines to come.
Both Linda and Burt are interviewed extensively in this documentary as are their friends and associates and a few outside commentators who have taken a close interest over the years. It’s given added punch by a soundtrack of 50s and 60s pop ballads of obsessive love – Elvis, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and Sounds Orchestral all have something to contribute on the subject. It is a creepy story and the film doesn’t exactly eschew the sensationalism that made media fodder of it before. But the fascination is undeniable: this portrait of a life-long ”love story” is like a grotesque mirror in which we may all catch an unsettling glimpse of lives and loves closer to home. — BG