Candid discussions about sex and relationships in film have always largely been male-orientated; bros hanging out in a basement discussing how many girls they’ve had and getting caught masturbating in their rooms are all staples of any teen comedy. It only feels like very recently that the tables have turned to allow teenage girls to speak their minds openly about these topics on-screen. That sentiment is however incorrect, as director Sarah Jacobsen proves with her 1996 underground feminist flick Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore, which has been lovingly restored by the American Genre Film Archive and screened at Weird Weekend in Glasgow alongside her short I Was A Teenage Serial Killer.
Jacobsen’s characters have a Riot Grrrl feminist spirit, and the film’s essence is very much the same: overt, DIY (Jacobsen serves as director, writer, producer, cinematographer and editor) and unapologetic. We follow Mary-Jane (Lisa Gerstein), a suburban gal in the mid-west who works in a movie theatre of which she is the youngest employee. Determined to ride with the big dogs she decides to lose her virginity to the sleazy Steve (Shane Kramer) in a cemetery after a party one night. Panged with regret and confused by her innate lack of enjoyment in the act itself, Mary-Jane takes it upon herself to discuss all things sex and relationships with her co-workers and wonderful parental figure gay boss Dave (Greg Cruikshank).
The plot is loose and there is no major direction to the films structure, but Jacobsen’s voice is clear and important. The film’s candid discussions roll out much like the early films of Richard Linklater (think Slacker, meets Kevin Smith’s Clerks but set in a cinema instead), moving from person to person with swift ease, with each conversation adding a poignant touch to Mary-Jane’s growing understanding and confidence. Amongst her co-workers they manage to tackle issues of rape, casual sex, teen pregnancy and gay sex.
But it is learning about masturbation that really sets Mary-Jane alight. Disappointed that her first sexual experience was nothing like the movies she sees screened in her place of work every day, Mary-Jane finds that she can take ownership of that experience through knowing what she enjoys first − in fact, demanding it. Expectations of passionate romance that had once crashed down around her are soon rectified when she realises she can have that passion for herself. Jacobsen is certainly not afraid of the female body, Mary-Jane and best friend Ericka have a relaxed conversation about the clitoris and Jacobsen focuses on Mary-Jane’s glowing face the first time she touches herself. Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore is hardly a film solely about one woman’s discovery of masturbation but it is a bold and forward-thinking focus to come out of the 1990s. Jacobsen was way ahead of the curve in giving young women that allowance to have these conversations and not only feel that they are getting questions answered, but that they can feel comfortable in these discussions too.
Jacobsen’s Riot Grrrl film is backed by a thrashing soundtrack from the likes of Babes in Toyland and The Loudmouths that perfectly encapsulate that feeling of frustrated displacement in 1990s girlhood. Punky and out to change perceptions, Jacobsen exudes a confidence in her voice and underground directing style that directly translates into her female characters.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here