Female Filmmaker Friday: Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore, 1998 (dir. Sarah Jacobson)

Last December on TCM Underground we showed two films by “The Queen of Underground Film,” Sarah Jacobson: her 27 minute b&w short film I Was a Teenage Serial Killer and her only feature film, 1998’s Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore. Both films totally blew my mind. The American Genre Film Archive, aka AGFA, recently put out a new 2K restoration of the films. Right now they are only available as DCP/Blu-ray for theatrical display, but I have been informed a home video release is coming in August.

After the release of Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore, Jacobson told the Austin Chronicle that she considers herself, “a feminist filmmaker, definitely,” and went on to explain that part of why she made the film was because she, “really wanted to tell guys what I liked about sex, instead of just saying, ‘It’s different for girls.'” She also told Marc Savlov that she made it for women thinking, “maybe there’s a girl out there who hasn’t discovered her clit or doesn’t know about masturbation or her sexuality in general.” You can read the whole interview here.

After the success of her short film (which played in festivals around the world), she began work on her feature film debut. It would take three years to complete. Jacobson met fellow filmmaker Tamra Davis, who had just made her debut with Guncrazy for Showtime, at a met her at a zine convention in Los Angeles (which is the most 90s riot grrrl thing ever). Early on in the production she sent Davis a trailer, after which she became an investor, helping secure the films micro-budget. An early print of the film made its debut at Chicago Underground Film Festival in 1996, but Jacobson was unhappy with the print that screened at that festival. After four months of work with the lab, she was able to get a new print, which played sold out screenings at the 1997 Sundance and SXSW festivals, kicking off yet another glob-trotting festival run for Jacobson.

While the film was shot in San Francisco, mostly inside the Victoria Theatre, it is set in Minnesota (Jacobson grew up there and worked at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis). It follows the titular Mary Jane (Lisa Gerstein) as she finishes off her final year of school while working at a grungy movie theater. While the main through-line of the film is Mary Jane’s sexual exploits (including the film opening with what turns out to be one of the most accurate/uncomfortable to watch midnight trysts), what I loved the most about the film was the very grounded and realistic female friendships.

After talking to most of the movie theater staff about how they first lost their virginity, one of the older girls on the staff talks candidly with Mary Jane about masturbation; she has never tried it. She thinks only losers masturbate. Her co-worker tells her nothing could be further from the truth. 1) Everyone masturbates. 2) It’s free (and safe from STD/pregnancy). 3) It helps you discover what you like! I absolutely adore the way Jacobson films Mary Jane’s first masturbation session. It plays off of romantic tropes, soft lighting and all, but it’s Mary Jane with herself, not some idiot dude fumbling around haphazardly.

Mary Jane spends quite a bit of the rest of the movie either masturbating around hidden places in the theater, or attempting to use what she’s learned masturbating with the guys she likes.

In contrast to shit-show that was her first sexual encounter at the beginning of the scene, she goes on a date with crush Tom (Chris Enright) which ends with the two of them fooling around in a car. Rather than repeat her mistakes, Mary Jane communicates – I repeat COMMUNICATES – what she likes to Tom and they work together to both have a good time and climax. Honestly, it’s probably the most realistic sex scene I’ve ever seen in a film. Delightful!

Jacobson was 26 when she completed Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore. She also contributed to Miranda July’s video zine project Joanie4Jackie, participated in DiY Fest, and directed a short documentary about the Making of Lou Adler’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. While developing her next feature film, she died from endometrial cancer in 2004, aged 32. Her collected papers are available for research at the Fales Library at New York University. Every year the Sarah Jacobson Film Grant is awards to, “one or more female, transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming filmmakers whose work embodies some of the things that Sarah stood for: a fierce DIY approach to filmmaking, a radical social critique, and a thoroughly underground sensibility.”

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on February 22, 2019, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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