Filmmaking is the art of compromise. No matter what a director says, their vision of the movie and what ends up on the screen aren’t even close to the same. Mostly because the budget won’t allow the perfect cast, the proper sets, the world’s greatest cinematographer and unlimited production days. Money dictates the film more than creativity. Director Henri Charbakshi wanted to make a feature film after making a few short projects. He imagined The Last Affair as European cinema in the footsteps of his idols FranÃ§ois Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman. He had a very non-Hollywood story about a couple who can’t conceive a child. Their solution is for the wife to hook up with a variety of male hookers to get pregnant. Henri learned quickly about compromise when he found investors eager to get in the film business. The backers wanted a hardcore X-rated movie. Henri said, “Sure thing.” A Labor of Love documents what happened when a director and cast without any experience in adult cinema meet in Chicago during the winter of 1974. It’s a chilling masterpiece.
Henri is completely clueless on how to shoot a full out erotic scene. Right off the bat you know this is going to be a pathetic mess when he allows his cast to improvise the encounters. Improvising is never good when you’re shooting with a 35mm film camera. The camera doesn’t hold that much film which leads to a major disaster on the first erotic scene. Even worse is that they skip using a sound blimp for a handheld 35mm film camera. This means the romantic encounters get accompanied by a mechanical grinding noise. None of the actors have a background in stripping down and getting nasty. There’s a lot of non-performance moments from actors who can’t have sex with 12 people watching and mood music consisting of the sound of a dull dental drill. The producers have to find an unlikely source to make movie magic happen on the screen. There’s a lot of trauma on the set from actors who thought they handle being X-rated performers. An older actor completely creeps out a young actress with his daddy talk.
Directors Robert Flaxman and David Goldman get deep into the action exposing how messed up The Last Affair was. They end up with the greatest behind the scenes documentary ever made without the benefit of hindsight. A Labor of Love is filmmaking captured in the moment without people having too much time to reflect upon the experience. Actors are raw when relating their first time having real sex as part of a performance. Sure there’s Hearts of Darkness, but that movie was made years after Apocalypse Now. American Movie comes off rather cute compared to this film. Mark Borchardt didn’t have Uncle Bill strip down and hump away. There’s true trauma caught in a true story of sexual perversity in Chicago. Nobody has a chance to talk about the finished movie since A Labor of Love came out before The Last Affair was released. Roger Ebert did review The Last Affair, but the film slipped quickly into obscurity. A Labor of Love ought to be held up with the work of the Maysles Brothers and D.A. Pennebaker. Aspiring filmmakers need to see this movie, but only after they turn 18 since it is X-rated. This is a major lesson on the true danger of compromising your cinema integrity to land a budget. Sometimes you have to say, “No.”
The video is 1.85.1 anamorphic. The film was shot on 16mm film so there’s a bit of grain to the image, but it fits the gritty nature. The audio is mono. You can hear the action and that grinding camera noise clearly.
Interview with Robert Flaxman (36:30) has him onstage with at the Cinefamily presentation in Los Angeles. He explains the grinding camera noise and why he didn’t stop it.
The Trailer (1:26) hints at the messed up production.
A Labor of Love is an astonishing inside look at what happens when a first time director with art house pretenses gets dragged into the grindhouse. This is a documentary masterpiece.
Vinegar Syndrome presents A Labor of Love. Directed by Robert Flaxman and Daniel Goldman. Starring: Henri Charbakshi, Betty Thomas and Ron Dean. Running Time: 67 minutes. Released: June 11, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Chicago, documentary, Grindhouse, Vinegar Syndrome