A Labor of Love (1975)

LABOR OF LOVE follows the trials of a Chicago film crew as they try to make a movie.  Henri Charbakshi has a dream.  He wants to shoot a feature film and has finally found financial backing.  The hitch is the backers want hardcore sex scenes in the film.  The financiers have heard that sex films make the big money and they want in on the action.   Henri’s tries to convince the backers that the film doesn’t need more than 20% of the film to be sex otherwise it would just be a porno film.  THE LAST AFFAIR is supposed to be much more than just a porno.  According to Henri it is inspired by Fellini, Truffaut, and Bergman. It is hard to argue that there may be an auteur at work here…it is pretty hard to say there is even a director at work here. 

Unfortunately for the producers Henri has no idea how to shoot a sex scene.  The documentary makers show every inept and ham-fisted mistake he makes trying to shoot these scenes.  It seems the first sex scene he wants to shoot is a scene with incestual connotations between a young woman and an older man thirty years her senior.  The older man, Len, got the part because he was a friend of someone involved with the production company.  He immediately has regrets and expresses them in a shocking and intimate interview.  Other stars do not want to talk about their roles or the scenes they’ve shot.  This is an independent production in Chicago not Van Nuys. Others fail to perform as needed and non-actors are brought into the film to help out.  Even the guy who owns the mansion they are using for filming was called in to act as a stunt dick (Peter Belden). 

All of Henri’s previous short film work have featured prostitutes, he has been fascinated with
prostitutes since he was a child.  For a twist he decides THE LAST AFFAIR will feature male prostitutes.  Some of the talent are actors who had no intention of being in porn flicks and are definitely uncomfortable with the prospect while others have fewer qualms.  THE LAST AFFAIR features Debbie (Deborah Den) who plays a young wife who cannot have children because her drag racer husband (Ronald Dean) is sterile.  As a result she tries to find someone to act as a surrogate for them. 

Debbie feels used and according the artistic director, “like an animal.”  Yet for the next scene she is in control telling Henri how the scene should be shot and we are shown a director who has lost whatever tenuous grip he may have had on the production.  This scene helps show how far out of control this production has gotten from Henri.  Henri thinks the worst part of the production was shooting the sex scenes.  It seems everybody does.  Debbie thinks it is emasculating and de-feminizing while another actor compares it to something as boring as shooting an industrial film.  When THE LAST AFFAIR finally sees release-in a theater purchased to air the film-it seems the producers thought so too.

Henri has a quality reminiscent of Ricky Gervais’ David Brent of the Office in the way he is always aware of the documentary crew’s ever-rolling camera. His eyes are always quick to find the camera and it shows that he allows his “performance” as a director for the documentary to hamper his actual work as a director. 

Many times through the film we hear the sound of an unsilenced motion picture camera motor.  The sound is absolutely nerve wracking.  Vinegar Syndrome puts it to great use as the sound heard over the DVD menu as well.

One of the aspects I appreciated is that most of the subjects, with the exception of Henri and Deborah, are fairly anonymous.  There are no title cards with their names and positions on them for the talking head moments.  And these moments are truly great.  It is fun to watch this production go off the rails but the reactions and reflections of those involved are great intimate portraits of people who really have no idea what exactly they’ve gotten involved with.  A LABOR OF LOVE is a great piece of cinema vèritè and shows a director with heart but no direction and a crew adrift.

The Vinegar Syndrome DVD includes a trailer and an interview (really a Q & A) with director Robert Flaxman.  The film clocks in just over an hour at 67 minutes but it shows so much in such a short time. It is presented in AR 1.85:1 and is an all regions disc.  The picture quality is great.  It is a 2k transfer from a 16mm original.  A LABOR OF LOVE will be released on June, 11th and is available for pre-order directly from Vinegar Syndrome or on Amazon.  

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