Monday, June 10, 2013

A Labor of Love - Vinegar Syndrome DVD Review

 A Labor of Love

Directors: Robert Flaxman, Daniel Goldman
Stars: Henri Charbakshi, Betty Thomas, Debbie Dan
Year: 1975
Running Time: 67 Minutes
Studio: Vinegar Syndrome
Release Date: 06/11/13

A Labor of Love is a 67-minute documentary about a disastrous art film turned porn film shoot that is cringe-inducing enough that it might make any aspiring filmmakers want to rethink their career paths. Iranian born director Henri Charbakshi set out to make a nice little pretentious art film call The Last Affair, but producers wouldn't fund the film unless Charbakshi were to include hardcore sex scenes. The 70's were weird, demanding more sex in a film? Henri was completely against this, but it was hardcore scenes or no money, so he chose hardcore scenes.

An acquaintance of Herni named Robert Flaxman caught wind of this group of non-pornographers being forced to include hardcore scenes in their film and thought it would be a fascinating subject for a documentary. And he was 100% correct. A Labor of Love is a heartbreaking and awkwardly hysterical documentary that is endlessly fascinating.

We watch as Henri - who gets my pick for the "Best Movie Director Haircut Award" grows increasingly and understandably frustrated as every possible thing goes wrong while shooting porn scenes he never wanted to shoot. One of the actresses gets her period, half a dozen guys fail to achieve erections, and he's got a lead actress who will Not. Shut. Up. At one point getting his film made becomes such a difficult task that Henri has to recruit the son of the guy whose house they filmed in to perform the sex scene six other guys couldn't. There's a lesson here, don't let people film porn in your mansion or you might inadvertently turn your son into a porn actor.

The whole film is packed with awkward but the first porn scene we witness them shooting is a real showstopper. An actor in his 50's delivers the absolute most awkward improvised dialog ever in a stunningly uncomfortable father/daughter sex scene. He goes into a spiel where he likens the growth of his daughter's breasts to increasingly larger fruits over the years, from cherries to grapefruits. Hands down, the least erotic scene ever filmed that didn't end with someone being defecated on. 

Though A Labor of Love makes it seem like completion would've been impossible Henri and crew did eventually get their film finished. The Last Affair premiered with an R rating and exactly zero hardcore scenes. It only played for about a week in Chicago and I believe Roger Ebert might've very well been the only person who saw the film, because his review is the only review of The Last Affair I've come across online. If you're wondering, Roger hated it, though he didn't hate hate hate hate hate it, so maybe it wasn't that bad.

Henri hated filming the sex scenes so much that A Labor of Love ends with him swearing off filming sex  forever, although he wasn't able to keep this promise, starting in 1990 he began making erotic thrillers with titles like Fatal Encounters and Illegal Entry and Women in Prison style movies like Cellblock Sisters.

The disc is light on features but the one major extra is quite interesting, a 36-minute interview with director Robert Flaxman from a recent screening of A Labor of Love. He shares a lot of details about how he met Henri and he came to direct a documentary about this failing film production. He's not 100% on all of the details, but he does remember a remarkable amount about the production. Also included is a great 87-second trailer.

Vinegar Syndrome continues to do what they do best, rescuing yet another fascinating oddity from fading into obscurity. A Labor of Love is as uncomfortable a documentary as I've ever seen and I loved every minute of it. Recommended, especially for documentary fans and anyone interested in making films of their own.

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