Lizzie Borden (director)
Lizzie Borden in December 2016
Linda Elizabeth Borden
The daughter of a Detroit stockbroker, originally named Linda Elizabeth Borden, at the age of eleven she decided to take the name of the accused 1890s Massachusetts double murderer Lizzie Borden, and was inspired by the following children's rhyme:
- Lizzie Borden took an axe
- And gave her father forty whacks,
- When she saw what she had done,
- She gave her mother forty-one
Borden's career as a feminist filmmaker began when she majored in art at Wellesley College in Massachusetts before moving to New York. She moved away from the more mainstream writing and art criticism (in part for Art Forum) and decided to become a painter. However, after attending a retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard, she was inspired to experiment with cinema and favored a "naive" approach to film production.
Independent film career
Initially, her films were united by an "iconoclastic depiction of sex" and she controversially portrayed prostitution as an "economic choice" in her 1986 film Working Girls. Her body of work also investigates race, class, power, capitalism, and the power money bestows—all from a feminist vantage point.
In 1976 she made an experimental documentary film titled Regrouping which chronicled the fracturing of a women's collective. The film was a portrait of four women artists and incorporated avant-garde techniques borrowed from performance art including a meta-analysis of the role of film itself in the fracturing of the collective that the film portrayed. The film was shown along with Born in Flames at an Anthology Film Archives screening in 2016.
Her next film finished in 1983, Born in Flames, named after a song written by a member of Art & Language, Mayo Thompson of the Red Krayola. It was shot and edited over the course of five years and had a budget of $30,000. Set in New York, it explores the role media plays in culture. What began as a project about white feminist responses to an oppressive government evolved into a story about women of color, including lesbians, and white women of various classes mobilizing into collective action, and concerned the racial, class, and political conflicts in a future United States socialist democracy. Borden's "naive" approach to film production can be seen in its gritty, pseudo-documentary style, which pieces together a "disjunctive collage of women's individual and collective work". Additionally, she used nonprofessional actresses and actors. Born in Flames premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and won several awards. It was named one of "The Most Important 50 Independent Films" by Filmmaker magazine and has been the subject of extensive feminist analysis, including that of Teresa de Lauretis.
In February 2016, Anthology Film Archives hosted a week-long revival run of Born in Flames, premiering their new 35mm restoration funded by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The restoration was part of a larger multi-year project, "Re-Visions: American Experimental Film 1975-1990" supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. To commemorate the re-release, The New Yorker remarked, "the free, ardent, spontaneous creativity of 'Born in Flames' emerges as an indispensable mode of radical change—one that many contemporary filmmakers with political intentions have yet to assimilate."
Borden's second film, Working Girls, depicting the lives of sex workers, maintains some of the stylistic and thematic features of her debut, but is more mainstream in its approach. The film was inspired by some of the women who participated in the making of Born in Flames, who coincidentally supported themselves through prostitution. Although Working Girls addresses the subject of prostitution in great detail, Borden prefers the film to be discussed as a narrative fiction film rather than as a documentary. The film was intended to be a "back-stage" look at prostitution. In a New York Times review, Vincent Canby writes, "Working Girls, though a work of fiction, sounds as authentic as might a documentary about coal miners. " The film portrays prostitution as an often tedious, sometimes depressing, occasionally interesting or funny job. The main character, Molly, claims to have a degree from Yale and is a lesbian in her private life.
Borden wrote, directed, and produced the film and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Director's Fortnight. The film won Best Feature at the Sundance Film Festival and was sold and then distributed by Miramax Films.
Hollywood film career
Miramax then gave Borden a budget of $6 million and a script for Love Crimes, her first Hollywood film feature. It was intended as a thriller, but Borden envisioned it as centered more on a woman's genuine sexual feelings. It was originally scripted by Allan Moyle, but was rewritten by Laurie Frank, a female screenwriter specifically requested by Borden. This was also her first film not based on an original script. It starred Sean Young and Patrick Bergin.
Although Borden found herself in the position to direct a mainstream production, her power over the film's content was disrupted by (as Borden puts it) "everyone else's psyches ... with their fetishes, and what they don't like". Love Crimes was subjected to much studio interference and it fell victim to Hollywood's more politically correct protocols regarding sex in the 1990s, and as a result it lacked the taboo representations she was once able to project on screen. Numerous scenes were removed and some never shot in the studio's attempts to present what they termed an "acceptable" vision of the lead's sexuality to a mass audience. The studio took away much of Borden's control over the final product and even went so far as to cut out the original ending that Borden had shot, substituting its own. "I went to movie jail after I did this awful movie, Love Crimes. I should have taken my name off it, but I was bullied into not taking my name off it. There are things in it that I didn't shoot. It's just not my movie, really."
The film was released to theaters and quickly tanked, and the film was removed after three weeks due to poor box office.
For its VHS release, Borden negotiated the restoration of several scenes originally cut from the theatrical release. As a result, two versions of the film were released in July 1992: the original theatrical version and a second, "unrated" version. "The problems really came down to sex," Borden said. "My vision of what I wanted, of how I wanted to explore the character (played by Sean Young) and her sexual needs and desires just wasn't acceptable or accepted. The sadomasochistic element of the film as I envisioned it was too scary for the people writing the checks. And then I didn't get the final cut."The eventual VHS release saw the film's unrated version become a fast seller and remains a cult favorite and highly collectible item. In a 2018 podcast, Borden says the "director's cut" was never really hers but a marketing ploy by Weinstein.
After the film's release and critical failure in the box office it became very difficult for Borden to set up further projects. She ventured into television with mixed results, and worked with such cult stars as Mary Woronov, Alexis Arquette and Joe Dallesandro in a series of Propaganda Films created for Playboy TV (other directors in the series included Bernard Rose and Alexander Payne.) She subsequently directed episodes of Red Shoe Diaries, Alex Mack and other television productions, as well as directing local theater in Hollywood with the Grace Players, a theater troupe under the direction of Natalija Nogulich.
She cast future famous actor Bryan Cranston in the 1995 film Erotique; Borden (as one of the four directors involved in the four sex vignettes) noted, "Besides Louise Smith, he was the most game, daring actor I've ever worked with."[This quote needs a citation]
In 1999 Borden was able to pitch to investors and was in pre-production on a filmed version of August Strindberg's 1888 play Miss Julie when director Mike Figgis announced his own version in the trades and her bank financing collapsed.
In 2001 Borden flew to New York City for final script discussions with actress Susan Sarandon for her next film project, named Rialto. She and her partners arrived on the morning of 9/11, just in time to witness the World Trade Center collapse. Sarandon immediately joined the relief effort at Ground Zero and the project was put on hold.
Since the mid-2000s Borden has been working as a script doctor in Los Angeles, writing scripts for other directors, including one about reggae singer Bob Marley's relationship with mobster Danny Sims (based on Rita Marley's autobiography No Woman No Cry); This project is now called "Rebels" and has been announced as part of slate of projects by Golden Island Filmworks to begin shooting in 2016. She worked in television on some pilots for Fox Television, wrote a play about singer Nina Simone and is continuing to solicit financing for her independent projects.
Borden was once quoted as saying, "Born in Flames and Working Girls are the only two films I consider my own. The others – especially Love Crimes and Erotique – were so radically re-cut and interfered with by producers, they're not 'mine', in any sense of the word." Flashbacks by L.M. Kit Carson were added to "Love Crimes" and Borden was threatened against taking her name off the film. The producer of "Erotique" re-edited the film and laid on a music track, along with other changes. "I would like to make films the way I used to in New York, if that is possible. If I am able to make 'Rialto' in ten years – or twenty – I hope it will still be relevant. I don't need to make a lot of films, I just need to believe in the ones I make. I would prefer to remain silent in the sense of the Susan Sontag essay until I am able to make something I believe in. And the issues I believe in – social issues, feminist issues, radical issues – are difficult to finance, even independently." Borden will be directing a film, "Rialto", is editing a book, Honey On A Razor, of stories by strippers and is collaborating on a series about strippers with Antonia Crane, author of the memoir, Spent.
In February, 2016, "Born In Flames" was shown at the Anthology Film Archives in a 35 mm print restored by the Anthology. This remastered print which has been screened at the Walker Art Center, the Toronto Film Festival and at the London Film Festival. Experiencing somewhat of a second life, "Born In Flames" was screened at the London Film Festival in 2017, the Edinburgh Film Festival, in Brussels, Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian, the Seoul International Women's Film Festival and in many US cities, including Detroit, Rochester, San Francisco and New Orleans. Borden's first film, "Regrouping", which showed at the Anthology, also showed in February, 2106 and again, in July, at The Edinburgh Film Festival, where it first played, in Spain and in Brussels.
Borden has stated she is bisexual.
- Regrouping (1976)
- Born in Flames (1983)
- Working Girls (1986)
- Inside Out (1991)
- Love Crimes (1992)
- Erotique (1994)
Awards and nominations
|Year||Film||Award / Nomination||Result|
|1983||Born in Flames||Berlin International Film Festival Reader Jury of the "Zitty"
Créteil International Women's Film Festival Grand Prix
|1987||Working Girls||Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize
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