Lizzie Borden - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Detroit, 3 February 1958. Education: B.F.A., Wellesley College. Career: 1973–75—after college graduation, wrote art criticism for several journals before deciding on a career in film; 1988—directed Monsters television series. Address: c/o Weissman and Wolff, 9665 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90212, U.S.A.

Films as Director:


Born in Flames (+ pr)


Working Girls (+ pr, sc)


Love Crimes (+pr)

Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden


Inside Out


"Let's Talk about Sex" segment of Erotique (+sc)


"Bad Girl" episode of Alex Mack (for TV)


By BORDEN: articles—

"Lizzie Borden: Artist and Art Critic," interview with Ariel Bock, Marion Cajori, and Kathleen Mooney, in Interviews with Women in the Arts (New York), Part 1, 1974.

"An Interview with Filmmaker Lizzie Borden," interview with Anne Friedberg, in Women and Performance (New York), 1984.

" Labor Relations," interview with Lynne Jackson, in Cineaste (New York), 1987.

"Interview with Lizzie Borden," interview with Scott MacDonald, in Feminist Studies (New York), Summer, 1989.

On BORDEN: books—

Todd, Janet, Women and Film , New York, 1988.

MacDonald, Scott, A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers , Berkeley, California, 1992.

Cole, Janis, and Holly Dale, Calling the Shots: Profiles of Women Filmmakers , Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 1993.

On BORDEN: articles—

Maslin, Janet, " Born in Flames : Radical Feminist Ideas," in New York Times , 10 November 1983.

Hall, Carla, "Shadows & Art at the Fringe: Lizzie Borden and Her Unconventional Working Girls ," in Washington Post , 22 March 1987.

Maslin, Janet, "Trying to Set a Trap for a Serial Rapist," in New York Times , 26 January 1992.

Thomas, Kevin, " Erotique : Sexy Tales from Three Female Filmmakers," in Los Angeles Times , 20 January 1995.

* * *

While growing up in Detroit, Linda Elizabeth Borden got used to being called "Lizzie" by her friends, in reference to the alleged axmurderer of nineteenth-century Massachusetts. When, as a young adult, she decided on a career in film, Borden concluded that adopting the infamous nickname would help her to be noticed. She need not have worried—Lizzie Borden's efforts as a screenwriter, producer, and director have brought her considerable attention, and no small amount of acclaim.

Borden's first film was Born in Flames , which was, literally, years in the making. For a novice filmmaker like Borden, raising money posed a serious problem, and her best efforts resulted in her film being made on a shoestring budget of only $30,000. Born in Flames was finally finished in 1983, with Borden serving as director, producer, and screenwriter—although the script was revised in collaboration with the actors (nonprofessionals all) who appeared in the film.

Born in Flames takes place in the near future, ten years after a socialist revolution has swept America. But what was promised to be a utopia of gender equality and inclusion has started to revert to the old formula of male supremacy. In response, groups of women come together to resist the new brand of oppression. Although the women learn to work together, the film does not homogenize them by ignoring differences in race, class, or sexual orientation. The rebel women do not achieve unity by sublimating their differences, but by acknowledging them and forging cooperation in the heat of their own passions. Born in Flames became an immediate feminist classic, although not all feminists appreciated the implicit criticisms (such as elitism and insensitivity) that Borden levels at the women's movement through her film.

Three years later saw the release of Working Girls , Borden's unsentimental look at prostitution. Shot in pseudo-documentary style, the film follows one group of "working girls" as they put in a long (18 hours) shift at the Midtown Manhattan condo that serves as a bordello. One might expect a feminist's film about prostitution to be a strident denunciation of the "profession" and the exploitative patriarchy that evokes it, but Borden's message is more complex. While working on the script, she spent considerable time with members of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), an organization of current and former prostitutes who lobby on behalf of the oldest profession and its practitioners. These contacts influenced Borden's perspective in a major way.

Borden does not glamorize prostitution—her film is not remotely like Pretty Woman —but neither is it a feminist jeremiad. The title that Borden chose is revealing. Working Girls portrays prostitution as a job—often tedious, sometimes depressing, occasionally interesting or funny. The main character, Molly, has a degree from Yale and is a lesbian in her private life. The other "girls" in the film also fail to conform to Hollywood stereotypes.

Lizzie Borden's next film, Love Crimes , was both her most "mainstream," and, for many critics, her least successful. Miramax Films gave Borden a bigger budget (about $7 million) than she had ever worked with before, but also took away much of Borden's control over the final product. The studio even cut out the ending that Borden shot, and substituted its own.

The plot of Love Crimes concerns a female assistant district attorney (played by Sean Young) who goes after a male photographer who pressures unsuspecting young women into posing for sexually explicit photos, then uses the pictures as leverage to extort sexual favors. After her sister falls victim to this ploy, Young's character goes under cover to trap this rapist, but finds herself responding sexually to the man's personality.

The film raises interesting questions about pornography, voyeurism, and sexual dominance/submission, but ultimately answers none of them. In the end, the film proved too "kinky" for mainstream audiences, but too conventional for Borden's usual fans.

Her next project after Love Crimes was "Let's Talk about Sex," a segment of the 1994 anthology film Erotique , which finds a female phone-sex operator developing a fascination for her most regular customer; she eventually decides to extend the relationship beyond the telephone. More recently, Borden has directed television episodes for such pay-TV venues as Showtime and the Playboy Channel.

—Justin Gustainis

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