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Anchor Bay presents
Working Girls (1986)

"I'm already renting my body, I don't want to sell my mind."
- "Molly" (Louise Smith)

Review By: Dale Dobson  
Published: May 12, 2001

Stars: Louise Smith, Amanda Goodwin, Ellen McElduff
Other Stars: Marusia Zach, Janne Peters, Helen Nicholas
Director: Lizzie Borden

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (explicit sexuality, nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:33m:17s
Release Date: April 24, 2001
UPC: 013131139297
Genre: offbeat


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- C+

DVD Review

NOTE: The following review, like the film it addresses, contains frank references to sexual matters. Sensitive readers may not wish to continue.

Working Girls portrays a day in the life of several prostitutes at a mid-range brothel in New York City. "Molly" (Louise Smith) sells her intelligence, "Dawn" (Amanda Goodwin) her bustiness, and "Gina" (Marusia Zach) her professionalism. Everyone works for Lucy (Ellen McElduff), the materialistic owner of the business, who pretends to herself that she is running a "dating service" as opposed to a bordello. Memorable customers include "Fantasy Fred" (Fred Neumann), who likes the girls to play out his fantasy of blindness miraculously cured by intercourse, and "Bongo" (Benjamin Egbuna), who uses the girls visually to "rev up" before going home to his wife.

Director Lizzie Borden (who also co-scripted and co-produced) approaches her subject with exceptional honesty. Working Girls is not a documentary per se, but it's closely based on interviews, stories and experiences gathered from real prostitutes, to the extent that some who saw the completed film feared for their privacy. There are no Pretty Woman or Best Little Whorehouse in Texas clichés here—no hookers with hearts of gold, no whorehouse romances. Instead, we're given a rare glimpse at the banality of the sex industry—the constant concern for hygiene and accounting, the awkwardness of diaphragm insertion, the need to break character in mid-fantasy to apply a condom. The "brothel" is just a two-story apartment, with a generic living room downstairs and tacky themed environments like "The Jungle Room" above. The women are basically stuck in an office with bedrooms all day, answering the phone and handling the clients as they arrive.

A talented cast makes these characters real and interesting, with the exception of Ellen McElduff's Lucy, who seems overly "stagey" much of the time. Louise Smith anchors the story as Molly, an Ivy League graduate who vaguely intends to get out of the business and keeps her occupation secret from her lesbian life partner. Molly's complex emotional state comes across very well onscreen—she presents a cheerful face to her customers, but privately wonders what she's doing in this place. Amanda Goodwin's Dawn is ambitious and independent, if not overly refined, and Marusia Zach's veteran Gina is matter-of-fact and surprised at nothing. The male actors who play the "johns" portray their characters' predilections well overall, though some are less convincing than others.

Borden's low-budget physical production is up to the task—by limiting the script's scope to a single day in just a few locations, she makes the most of her dialogue and characters on limited funds. Music producer Roma Baran (a frequent collaborator with Laurie Anderson) brings her avant-garde sensibility to the score, using experimental instrumentation, "stings" and offbeat rhythms to good effect, and it's a welcome change from the synth-pop typical to 1980s cinema. The simple sets are completely appropriate to the prostitutes' sterile working environment, and the movie never suffers on account of its budget.

Working Girls is a feminist film in the best sense of the word—Lizzie Borden's brilliant little comedy/drama communicates a woman's point of view on a subject where the perspective is sorely needed. Recommended.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay presents Working Girls in its original 1.66:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, slightly windowboxed in 16:9 anamorphic format. The low-budget film exhibits a fair amount of grain in most scenes, with muted color in general, but the source print is clean and the digital transfer captures the movie's intentionally sterile "look" with clarity and excellent shadow detail. Another fine transfer from the folks at Crest National.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Working Girls features its original monophonic soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format for ProLogic decoding to the center channel. The track benefits from good dynamic range, capturing the Roma Baran-produced avant-garde music very nicely, and the "live" dialogue is clear and expressive, despite some low-level hum in the background. Clearly a limited-budget track, but well-captured here.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Lizzie Borden, director of photography Judy Irola, actress Amanda Goodwin
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Anchor Bay's Working Girls DVD features 26 text-menu chapter stops and a few standard, solid supplements:

Theatrical Trailer:

The original theatrical trailer is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic format, looking as good as the feature attraction for the most part. The trailer is nicely done, rhythmically edited, and well-presented here.

Commentary:

An engrossing, highly informative commentary track is contributed by director Lizzie Borden, D.P. Judy Irola, and co-star Amanda Goodwin ("Dawn"), recorded as a group. The track is very screen-specific, with lots of information on the production, the evolution of the script, the controversial nature of the subject matter, SAG arrangements and the film's public reception. The commentary occasionally suffers from microphone noise, but it's a fine commentary and the participants clearly enjoy reminiscing about the project.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Working Girls is a brilliant little film, frank and human in its workaday portrayal of prostitutes and their customers. Anchor Bay's DVD provides a solid transfer and a fine commentary. Definitely recommended.

 


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