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My Pleasure is My Business

1974, Starring Xaviera Hollander, Don Cullen, Henry Ramer, Colin Fox. Directed by Albert S. Waxman.

In later years, My Pleasure is My Business became a frequent source of embarrassment for Al Waxman. What made one of the day's most visible Canadian actors pick a softcore sex comedy for his directorial debut will forever be a mystery, and fans only familiar with Waxman's star turn as working class shlub Larry King might be surprised to learn this film even exists. Because of Waxman's attempts to brush off the film, VHS copies of this interesting little oddity remain rare and command high prices.

My Pleasure is My Business deigns to tell the true story of Xaviera Hollander, best known as the author of the 1971 autobiography The Happy Hooker. The book, detailing her rise from a secretary to a high-powered madam in the New York prostitution scene became a surprise best-seller which eventually landed her a job writing "Call Me Madam," a monthly sexual advice column for Penthouse magazine. She became an instant sex celebrity, and her name became synonymous with a guilt-free " modern" sexuality that characterized the 1970s.

Hollander had her detractors, though. In 1972, New York Mayor John V. Lindsay set up the Knapp Commission to investigate corruption in the New York City Police Department, and Hollander came under scrutiny when it was revealed that cops had frequented her brothel. The Knapp Commission "invited" her to permanently leave the country, and she decided to move to Toronto to avoid prosecution.

At the height of porno-chic in 1975, a film adapted from The Happy Hooker was released, starring Lynn Redgrave. Waxman's My Pleasure is My Business came out the same year, but presented a slightly different view of Xaviera's life. This semi-biographical film actually starred Hollander, and was based not on her history as a madam, but on her life after achieving fame. I say semi-biographical because My Pleasure is My Business plays fast and loose with facts, and emphasizes comedy above all else, including sex. Hollander stars as Gabrielle, a hooker and adult film star of fictional pictures like Naked Rapture. After she refuses to tell a U.S. senator that he's "the biggest," he escorts her to a plane and kicks her out of the country. As the credits flash, she flies from country to country seeking asylum. The reason Gabrielle keeps getting rejected? Voice-overs with stereotypical accents and subtitles inform us that she is "much too sexy."

But the small republic of Gestalt has a different idea. Flamboyant aide Freddy convinces the President that letting Gabrielle live among his people might actually be a good idea. By allowing her to land and then casting her out as a deviant, the population might overlook the President's own indiscretions, focusing their moral outrage on the sexy icon instead. This plan predictably backfires. Instead of condemning her, everyone is ecstatic to see Gabrielle, because she's sexy and just being in the presence of someone so sexy makes everyone else feel sexy. Got it? Sexy.

Not just content to be epitomize sexiness, Gabrielle launches a hardline campaign of liberating the Gestaltites through a revolutionary philosophy of "become more sexually liberated and hang-up your hang-ups." But this is not an adult film, so Gabrielle has to help everyone simply by being sexy, standing in provocative positions and saying erotic things. The President, not about to be corrupted by all this sexiness in the air, hires a bumbling Clouseau-esque private eye to catch Gabrielle in an act that would justify her extradition. I hate to say that's the extent of the plot of Waxman's film, but it is. Hollander wanders from one comic situation to the next with surprisingly little nudity or sex.

Some of these vignettes include a visit to Alfie Peckinpah, a porn director behind such films as Up Stethoscope who feels his business is somehow threatened by Gabrielle because she's so sexy. Then, she takes a job as a sex therapist where her colleague, a heavy set German lesbian psychiatrist, comes on to her. Men from town constantly hide in her hotel room, and she has to keep flushing them out. She gently caresses wine bottles and licks straws to seduce a local artist, and in the finale, she attends a sexy "Hollywood party" in which it seems all the earlier characters reappear with a supporting cast of cross-dressers, oyster-sucking dwarves and leather boys. As the party ends, the anti-sexy President discovers that Gabrielle has taken the opportunity to "liberate" his wife (Jayne Eastwood)! That's our Xaviera!

Taking a page from Cinepix's low-budget Quebec sex comedies, My Pleasure is My Business equates sex with freedom, but an essential ingredient is missing. While the Quebec films are really more about an unspoken political freedom, My Pleasure is My Business is a plotless sequencing of ribald 70s humour usually relegated to cocktail napkins. The film's parade of outrageous sexual and racial stereotypes, embodied best by the overweight lesbian fraulein who listens to oompah music, seems to instead forecast the English-Canadian screwball comedies.

Waxman's celluloid love poem to Xaviera was released at the height of Xaviera's popularity, taking advantage of her brief stay in Canada to cash in on her tenuous celebrity. While the film itself is less enjoyable than you might hope for, it is really best recognized for what it truly is a long-lost Canadian curiosity. With music by Tom Cochrane, a healthy dose of Waxman's Jewish comic sensibility, appearances by a variety of Canadian character actors and Toronto masquerading as a fictional generic European country, this is the kind of film that feels like a mistake. I can assure you that you will never, ever see a movie like this come out of Canada again. This is true for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that frankly, it's just much too sexy.

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