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June 16, 2013

Movie Review: A Labor Of Love (1975)

Directed by Robert Flaxman and Daniel Goldman

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

The independently produced film “The Last Affair”, a serious drama to be shot in the Chicago area in the winter of 1975, 1976 or thereabouts was suddenly confronted with a daunting stipulation on the part of the producers. Twenty to 60 percent of the project would now have to have hardcore sex inserts in order to recoup investment. The cast and crew, while adopting the “show must go on” attitude are quick to learn -- that while held in low esteem, pornography should never be attempted by the inexperienced. The expected painfully funny scenes begin to unspool before the documentarian’s cameras.

A Labor of Love is a cruelly hilarious experience that unintentionally adds credibility to hardcore porno filmmakers … not everyone can simply switch on a camera and expect the performers to reenact sex acts, film it all and come up with an erotic scene. Both the crew – who use a handheld 16 mm camera that sounds like a lawnmower going over gravel – and the actors, who have their expected limitations, stumble around and try to make an ostensible “art film” with pound cake action.

The plot of “The Last Affair” seems ill advised to begin with. Our heroine discovers that she is unable to conceive, and as a result goes to a brothel catering to female clients and male prostitutes, “in order to find a father for her children,” smarmy director Henri Charr, ne Charbakshi says. Huh? Did we miss something here?

Everything that can go wrong does. The macho, bearded leading man (“Sex is a very important part of my life …”) has performance issues. There's also the elderly actor who's playing a father figure in an incest fantasy scene who ad libs some rather disgusting dialogue.

And then there is director Henri the director, who calls to mind both Sascha Cohen Baron’s Borat and Andy Kaufman’s Latka, doused with buckets greasy self-confidence. In a telling moment, he tells the documentarians about how he felt inspired to make the film over his fascination with the street prostitutes he would see in his native Iran. Suave yet clueless, the viewer has little confidence that “The Last Affair” will get completed, or Henri and his crew will go on to further film work, but hold that thought --

Vinegar Syndrome resurrects A Labor of Love on the digital format. Thought long lost, the film was rediscovered in Chicago and made the rounds on the repertory theater circuit. In the disc’s chief extras, Cinefamily’s /Silent Movie Theater’s Hadrian Belove interviews director Flaxman for a good half hour, and many fascinating details emerge. Flaxman admits to working on fellow Chicagoan filmmaker Herschel Gordon Lewis’ Suburban Roulette, and the many behind-the-scenes stories his humble crew faced. While A Labor of Love is very funny and well worth anyone’s time and money, one detail has been left out of the mix. Director Henri Charr went on to a long and quasi-successful film career afterwards!

Charr has one notable horror genre credit, Please Don’t Eat the Babies (1983), which was long available on the gray market circuit. An interminable mess, Babies is about a cannibalistic older couple who uses their grandson to lure vacationers to their island hideout. The most memorable scene in Babies has store-bought toy puppets standing in for insect monsters attacking a yacht’s crew members. Babies was eventually edited down and sold on DVD as Island Fury. Charr would soldier on to make various straight-to-home-entertainment movies such as My Uncle the Alien (1996) and Forbidden Border (2009). His most recent film, Stepping High was released this year! Why no sit-down chat with this misunderstood genius?

The DVD from Vinegar Syndrome also includes this film’s trailer. Overall, the DVD is a fascinating and hilarious look at the filmmaking process – a TRUE “labor of love.”

Screen-caps for A Labor of Love courtesy of Rock! Shock! Pop!

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