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Working Girls (The Criterion Collection)

The Criterion Collection // R // July 13, 2022
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted July 27, 2021 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Directed by filmmaker Lizzie Borden on the heels of her last film, In Flames, 1986's Working Girls explores the lives of a few prostitutes working out of a brothel in Manhattan. Set over one day, we quickly learn how the brothel operates, with various ‘johns' calling in to set up an appointment while the different women that work their hang out and talk while waiting for their clients to arrive. When they arrive, small talk is made and various fantasies are acted out, some stranger than others, some fairly vanilla.

Along the way, we see the operational side of things in the brothel. It is, after all, a business and businesses exist only to make money. This means keeping up appearances for the clients, ensuring that there are enough paper towels on hand to clean up any messes that might get made, how they deal with birth control and protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and the best ways to ensure that your client isn't actually a cop.

The central character in the film is Molly (Louise Smith). She works as a photographer when she can but puts in time at the brothel to make ends meet. She's a lesbian in her personal life and her girlfriend is unware of this part time job she has. When the film is focused on her we learn about her relationships with the various ‘johns' she entertains but also how she deals with those relationships, allowing some to get somewhat personal but never too personal. We also see her interact with coworkers Gina (Marusia Zach), who doesn't feel she's cheating on her boyfriend when she's having sex at work, and Dawn (Amanda Goodwin) as well as the madam of the house, Lucy (Ellen McElduff), who has no problem showing her temper when things are no as she wants them to be.

It's interesting stuff and while prostitution is clearly the focus of this somewhat gritty picture, it's also about how sex sells and the different games that the clients play with the prostitutes. Some of the men seem to be there simply to get off, others for basic companionship while others still would seem to be working through some issues of their own. The movie doesn't go into super dense detail here, letting the viewers interpret a lot of this on their own, and it's probably better that way as attempting to over explain biological urges and how they affect both the male and the female psyche would result in a less though provoking picture than the one that Borden has delivered with this film.

The acting is usually good but there are some moments where you can tell that Borden wasn't working with the most experienced cast. These are easy to overlook, however. The movie has a very ‘low-fi' feel to it, it isn't a particularly slick or polished looking film but that suits the narrative and the overall tone of the production better than it would have otherwise. This lends the movie an air of realism that goes a long way towards making it as interesting as it is. It feels like real life.

The Video:

Working Girls arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc framed at 1.66.1 fullframe in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a "New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director Lizzie Borden." With the feature taking up 28.1GBs of space, the transfer looks good but doesn't hide (nor should it) the fact that this was shot on 16mm. As such, the image is naturally grainy and that's reproduced on the transfer. That said, the detail is there and there's quite a bit of depth to the image. There isn't much actual print damage here to note at all and overall, things look really nice and very film-like.

The Audio:

The 24-bit LPCM English language Mono audio track sounds fine given the film's roots. Dialogue is always clean and clear and easy to understand and the track is balanced but expect things to be a little on the flat side here. There aren't any real problems to note here, but the limitations of the source can be noticed.

The Extras:

Extras start off with an audio commentary from 2007 featuring Borden, director of photography Judy Irola, and actor Amanda Goodwin. These three cover a lot of ground, going over the genesis of the project, what they were trying to accomplish with the film, working with the different participants, locations used in the shoot and a lot more details related to the history of the production.

New to this Blu-ray release is a conversation between Borden and filmmaker Bette Gordon (the director of that runs for twenty-minutes. It does a nice job of going over the film's history and what makes it a unique piece of work. It covers some of the same ground as the commentary does but it's also got a fair bit of unique content in it. A new conversation with actors Louise Smith and Amanda Goodwin, producer Andi Gladstone and first assistant director Vicky Funari is also included, running twenty-two minutes and serving as an interesting look back at the different experiences the participants shared while working on the film. Also new to this disc is a conversation with sex workers Antonia Crane, Daphne Nguyen, Selena the Stripper and Jo Weldon that clocks in at just over twenty-six minutes. They speak quite honestly about their experiences on the streets and their thoughts on the film.

Menus and chapter selection are provided on the disc, which also comes packaged with an insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the disc as well as an essay by author So Mayer and excerpts from a 1987 interview with Borden by film critic Scott MacDonald, both of which are definitely worth reading.


Working Girls is a thought-provoking and well-made movie that often times feels like a documentary even while it isn't. Criterion has given this interesting slice of life picture a very nice presentation and with a good selection of extras that document its history and unique status, making it an easy recommendation for anyone with an interest in the subject matter of the world's oldest profession.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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