• A Labor Of Love

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: June 11, 2013.
    Director: Robert Flaxman, Daniel Goldman
    Cast: Various
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    Sometimes in the mid-seventies a would be Chicago based filmmaker named Henri Charbakshi, decided to make his first feature film. This movie was to be titled The Last Affair and it was to tell the story of a woman (played by Debbie Dan) whose husband (Ron Dean) cannot get her pregnant. As they want a child, he pressures her to indulge at a brothel full of male prostitutes in hopes that she’ll find the right man to do the deed. Though this was intended by Charbakshi to be an art film, the financial backers of the project wanted this to be as much of a sure thing as possible and as such, they insisted that he turn this project into a XXX film. Sex films were big money at the time, and this (rather drastic) change in direction would ensure that they would easily recoup their investment.

    As all of this was going on, two documentary filmmakers - Robert Flaxman and Daniel Goldman – heard what was going on and they made the decision to get a 16mm camera of their own and head to the set. The end result is A Labor Of Love, a fascinating glimpse into the toils and tribulations of a cast and crew completely unprepared for what they’re about to attempt. On set interviews shot in between takes and behind the scenes footage give us a firsthand account of what things were like here, and pretty much anything that could go wrong seemingly did.

    The director had no experience shooting porn. The male lead isn’t able to get it up. Mother nature wreaks havoc with one woman’s calendar and egos occasionally flare up and cause problems. The focus of the documentary itself definitely puts the sex scenes front and center, but this is not an adult picture in and of itself. There is nudity to be sure but it’s never played for titillation in A Labor Of Love, even if it was probably supposed to have been in The Last Affair. Rather, the copulation that does occur comes off as exceedingly mechanical and forced – it’s not in the least bit arousing, which somehow manages to make it all the more interesting.

    We do get some interesting insight into the lives and personalities of those who worked on the picture, however. Different performers discuss their allusions of grandeur and their plans to make it in the mainstream while others espouse the fleeting attempts at creating something akin to ‘art’ by coming on board the film. Input from the director himself also offers insight into his train of thought here. We definitely feel for those involved as they genuinely struggle to create… something with this film, something other than base pornography at least. It’s a bit sad, it’s frequently very funny and it’s always interesting. It’ll all come across as completely ridiculous, a comedy of errors almost, as it unfolds but truth is stranger than fiction. Oddly enough, A Labor Of Love stands as an absolutely fascinating success at documenting a film that was never less than doomed to stand as an absolute failure. While it has a sort of ‘train wreck’ quality to it, as a document of a specific time and place, a look into counter culture filmmaking of seventies post sexual revolution America, it’s pretty much irreplaceable.


    A Labor Of Love looks great on DVD, framed here at 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen and looking surprisingly crisp and colorful. As grainy as it should be, this is a nice, film-like presentation that offers good detail and strong black levels. There are spots where focus shifts, almost as if the cameraman was adjusting things while filming, but you can’t fault the transfer for that and moments like this really just serve to remind us of what it is we’re watching and how and where it was shot.

    The Dolby Digital Mono sound mix is in English, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Clarity is good, dialogue is easy to understand, levels are properly balanced and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion.

    The main extra is a thirty-six minute question and answer session conducted with co-director Robert Flaxman after a screening of the movie held in Los Angeles. Here he talks about everything from his involvement with Herschell Gordon Lewis to how he came on board to work on A Labor Of Love to what it was like making movies in Chicago in the seventies. He talks about building relationships with the cast and crew of The Last Affair while working on this documentary and he discusses filmmakers who influenced him as well. It’s quite a thorough talk and a very nice addition to the disc that provides some welcome background information on the unique and obscure feature attraction.

    Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Simultaneously fascinating, hilarious and shockingly naïve, A Labor Of Love is one of those rare documentaries that exists in a bizarre world all its own. It’s as much a personality piece as it is a look at the making of a movie, offering strange insight into what some are willing to do for art and into the quirks and flaws that make human nature what it is. Very interesting stuff, and Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD is a great way to experience it.