I left Sarah Jacobson’s Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore wanting to create something. It’s the same feeling I had after watching The Punk Singer – the 2013 documentary about riot grrrl pioneer and frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna. In the doc, Hanna talks about the process of making her record “Julie Ruin” alone in her apartment in the same DIY fashion Jacobson used to make this film. Writing, directing, editing, and producing the feature herself gives it the same raw, rough around the edges feel as Hanna’s homemade album, yet underneath the static lies total clarity in her potential as a filmmaker.
For those unfamiliar, the riot grrrl movement of the early nineties was an underground group of feminists who used punk rock to speak out against rape, domestic abuse, and the patriarchy. Eventually spreading beyond music, the movement inspired others to join the uprising by creating their own art in the form zines, films, anything to get the message out about putting a stop to physical and emotional violence against women. Released in 1998, Jacobson’s one and only feature film – she died of endometrial cancer at the age of 32 – is very much a product of this unabashedly female and artistically empowering generation.
Last week at Fantastic Fest, AGFA presented a new 2K preservations of Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore proceeded by Jacobson’s short film entitled I Was a Teenage Serial Killer. Both narratives offer candid depictions of the female sexual experience, but the short confronts unwanted male attention head on in its portrayal of a 19-year-old woman responding to catcalls and condescension from men by murdering them outright. In the feature film, the female protagonist’s experience covers all the typical coming-of-age bases – first loves, first times, finding your tribe. It’s the blunt female voice and unsentimental curiosity about sex that separates this picture from the mainstream. Hollywood’s version of growing up female feels phony in comparison, too often missing the mark on what it feels like for a girl.
The plot follows Jane (Lisa Gerstein), a nice girl from the Midwest suburbs who works at the local movie theater with the usual group of misfits and loners. After losing her virginity in the opening scene, Jane casually chats with each of her friends about their first time, discovering more about the mysteries of love, sex, and herself along the way. The simplicity of the story filtered through amateur but engaging performances enhance the force of realness in the film. Jacobson infuses her own anger toward the patriarchy and society’s repression of female sexuality into Jane’s experience and the result is a punk rock powerful commentary on coming-of-age female.
Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore is a striking example of a bold and empowering female narrative. Jacobson explores not just sexuality but the youthful curiosities and ignorance surrounding female self-discovery. She shines a light on what it feels like to be a girl and the harrowing process of tapping into the self-confidence it takes to create something meaningful. Her feature and short films are a testament to riot grrrl culture and the DIY spirit of creativity. It sucks the world will never have a chance to experience another film from the untapped potential of this self-made Queen of Underground Cinema.