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The Urgency of the Moment: A Conversation with Lizzie Borden

Interviews

Apr 22, 2024

The Urgency of the Moment: A Conversation with Lizzie Borden
Photo by Renaud Monfourny

The Urgency of the Moment: A Conversation with Lizzie Borden

Interviews

Apr 22, 2024

Lizzie Borden burst into international film consciousness when her debut feature, Regrouping, screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) in 1976. Presented in a groundbreaking program called International Forum on the Avant-Garde Film (running alongside a “Psychoanalysis and the Cinema” week, which was infamously accompanied by a dense theoretical reading list), Regrouping was praised by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum for putting abstract theory into dynamic practice. While it was shelved for personal reasons, it offers both formal and political inspiration for the work most associated with Borden’s name, Born in Flames (1983), a feminist call to arms—quite literally. Her third feature, Working Girls (1986), completed a trilogy of films about New York feminisms and the forces of gentrification sweeping downtown culture aside. Subsequently, Borden has written and directed for film and television, and has also written for publication—she started out in the 1970s as a writer for Artforum—but it’s this radical trilogy that is closest to many viewers’ hearts.

These three films come to the Criterion Channel at an urgent moment that they meet—a moment whose engagement of forces of domination and resistance they predict. Lizzie and I first met the day after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, when Regrouping was rescreened at the EIFF as part of a fortieth-anniversary tribute to the 1976 program curated by Kim Knowles. Our conversations are always charged by the moment, and by Lizzie’s deep, structural, and intersectional feminism. As a new generation watches these films in the context of global crisis, I’m sure many will follow the late filmmaker Barbara Hammer, who said, “We were all about ready to join the Women’s Army after seeing Born in Flames.


Here we are in the future time of Born in Flames, but it’s not the future you imagined. How does that feel?

I never expected Born in Flames to be relevant today. I thought it would disappear over the years. The film is set in a time after the U.S. has undergone a “social-democratic cultural revolution” meant to address inequities of race, class, and gender. I had no idea we would be, decades after the film’s release, slowly creeping toward a dictatorship. I thought we would have the rights we had been fighting for and sometimes making progress toward over the years, as in freedom of choice and equal pay. But we’re facing the eradication of all that with an election that will very likely endorse a man who says he wants to be a dictator. That’s shocking to me. A lot of the calls to action that Florynce Kennedy, the civil-rights attorney and activist, makes in the film, in her role as advisor to the Women’s Army, feel even more necessary now: that one’s voice must be heard by any means possible, and that violence is sometimes necessary when fighting oppression.

Regrouping
Born in Flames
Working Girls

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