CFS: ‘Working Girls’

Leslie Borden

The 1980s were a period when many filmmakers wanted to show the plight of the working woman.

Thus, Mike Nichol’s 1988 film “Working Girl” starred Melanie Griffith as a secretary trying to make it up the corporate ladder in New York.

But two years earlier, Lizzie Borden told a controversial story about working women in Manhattan.

Instead of focusing on the issues of equal pay and office discrimination, Borden concentrated on the much-mythologized world of prostitution, as practiced in an upscale brothel.

Determined to make a fictional film that represented the true lives of these ladies of the night, Lizzie Borden created a documentary-style film.

As the co-writer and director, Borden even had the film’s relatively unknown actresses apply for work at real houses, where they could get a taste of what prostitutes really do.

A graduate of Wellesley College, Borden moved to New York City to begin working in the art field, and she received her inspiration to become a filmmaker from famed French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Godard.

In the New Wave tradition, Borden did not directly denounce the profession of prostitution, but embraced its intricacies by spending time with members of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics.

This is an organization created by both practicing and former prostitutes who lobby for greater understanding and awareness of what prostitutes do.

The women she met and the stories they told strongly influenced her writing of the screenplay.

This small scale film, which cost merely $100,000 to make, went on to the Sundance Film Festival, where Lizzie Borden won the Special Jury Prize.

At the Independent Spirit Awards, Louise Smith, one of the stars of the film, was nominated as the best female lead.

Far from the idealistic Cinderella story of “Pretty Woman” and the horrific tale of abuse in “Monster,” “Working Girls” clearly does not sympathize with the choice of work these women have made.

The film is meant to merely record the transactions between the prostitutes and their “Johns.” One of the women sums up the job of a “working girl” by saying, “The two things I love most in life are sex and money. It’s just that I didn’t know until much later that they were connected.”

The film will be shown four times in the Connelly Cinema by the Spring ’09 Cultural Film and Lecture Series: Saturday, March 14 at 7 p.m., Sunday, March 15 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday, March 16 at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students and $5 for all others.

The Monday evening screening features guest speaker, Heather Hicks from the English department, who will provide an introduction and lead a discussion after the film.

For more information, call X9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.