Thursday, November 4, 2021

Working Girls (Lizzie Borden, 1986)


Lizzie Borden’s Working Girls might be one of the finest-ever studies of a workplace, regardless that the work in question is prostitution, sold out of a discreetly upscale apartment; in just an hour and a half, it encompasses an astounding range of incident and interaction and attitude, facilitating an improbably complete sense of the establishment as a multi-faceted meeting place and as economic matrix. It convincingly captures the mundane rhythms and rituals of the place: the different practices that kick in when the boss isn’t around, lunch orders, runs to the pharmacy, breaking in of new recruits, requests to stay late; all as naturalistically textured as if Borden had been observing it all her life. The women are convincingly diverse in their race, motivations, attitudes toward the job (some hide it from their significant others, some don’t; some use their real names, some don’t), where they draw the line with the clients; the clients in turn range from needy (there are frequent requests to meet the women outside, based in a belief that these are real connections, held back by the artificiality of the setting) to entitled to entirely businesslike. The film is explicit about the job’s physical requirements, meticulous in tracking the money (the central character Molly enters everything in a little book, depositing her takings on the way home); it’s often funny in the way that workplaces usually are, and of course deadly serious. While Borden’s style is generally intimately naturalistic, the scenes between the women and clients are sometimes consciously posed, coaxing us to view those encounters as structural constructs, and to interrogate our own gaze on them. Her amazing film ends as it began, in the midst of domestic intimacy, establishing all that we’ve seen as a common extension of that state, and uncomfortably sharing many of its attributes.

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