I’d like to share a different sort of review today. It’s no secret that I am an avid AGFA supporter. AGFA’s upcoming release of THE FILMS OF SARAH JACOBSON may be their best release yet. While not horror or “genre”, I don’t remember the last time I spent time with a release that felt this important, that also entertained me on both a cerebral and primal level at the same time.
The release consists of the black & white short: I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER, the only full-length feature by Sarah Jacobson: MARY JANE’S NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE, and a variety of other short recordings from the writer/director. Let’s start with the appetizer, shall we?
I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER (1993)
You can learn a lot about someone in 27 minutes. During the 27 minute runtime of I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER, I was exposed to punk rock laced feminism, and feminism laced wit to the extent that I would have been able to have a full and natural conversation with writer/director/DIY champion Sarah Jacobson immediately following my viewing.
Having been just a child in the early nineties, (and in Nebraska for that matter) I missed out on that grimy underground punk zine culture that began in the 70’s, and that was further perpetuated into the 1990’s by Gen X’ers to create the Riot Grrrl movement (of which Jacobson’s art would become so instrumental). As such, I missed out on IWATSK when it was unleashed on the world. Seeing it now for the first time was bittersweet because damn, it was lovely and damn, I wish I could have seen it 25 years ago so I could be a witness to its impact and be a part of the conversations that flowered from it.
The film seems to have been born from that dark part of Jacobson. That place deep down that wants to punish all men for being stupid, rude, and entitled, regardless of the budget allotted. The “protagonist” is a 19-year-old girl that has murdered as many men. If you catcall her, you’re murdered! If you mansplain to her, ya murda’d! DIY, handheld, black & white… IWATSK is raw, and it is angry, but its not without its humor. In one scene, a mansplainer vocalizes as Charlie Brown’s teacher wahwah style in the mind of the young lady. Unwanted lectures going through one ear, causing the eyes to roll, and coming out the other. It’s a crime on humanity that our serial killer deems worthy of a healthy serving of rat poison to the perpetrator.
Following all the death, the film ends with a poignant monologue on a curb in San Francisco, where she states:
“My story exists whether anyone’s gonna listen to me or not. Killing all these men who don’t understand is bullshit, ya know? I’m gonna do something worse. Whether you want to ignore me or invalidate my stories, I’m gonna tell ’em anyways. you can’t keep me quiet!”
And hell, if it’s good enough for Kim Gordon, it’s good enough for me.
Now for the main course.
MARY JANE’S NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE (1998)
More than anything else on this disc, MARY JANE’S NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE (hereafter referred to as MJNAVA) felt important. It could be that my teenage years felt very similar to those of the main character, Jane, and what I was experiencing was some sort of cosmic resonance. I’m no academic, but I think there is so much more to it than that.
The only thing that happens in MJNAVA apart from two sex scenes and a masturbation scene, is people having conversations. That’s it. But the earnestness of the characters (with the exception of the over-the-top Matt) creates a viewing experience that is overwhelmingly hypnotic. As a viewer I cared about the employees of this moviehouse. I cared about Jane and Ryan and Tom. About the pregnant one, the manager, and the bisexual. What would Jane learn about sex? About herself? And how would all of these relationships unfold and develop as Jane heads into graduation and beyond? I could have stayed glued to the screen for four or five hours, easy, if that is what the film required.
Jane lives in the suburbs with her parents that argue like they’d rather be at the office, and likewise Jane prefers to spend her time working with the outcasts at a small theater in the city. They get hammered in the basement, and draw a paycheck doing as little work as possible. Mary Jane has her first sexual experience during the film’s opening, and grapples with it for much of the movie. She asks all the other employees about their first times, goes to a punk party, and learns what the clit is. She makes rebelling feel like the wholesome and natural thing to do instead of the edgy, controversial thing. That may be the crux of the film’s spirit for me. It says “fuck you” to the rubric, life’s more like a rubix.
The release also has a bunch of additional “short films.” I use quotes because they aren’t short films in the way one would typically think. I’ll go over them briefly below.
Bra Shopping is a little home video of Sarah bra shopping with her mom. It’s interesting that she decided to document the experience, but not at all surprising. Some grainy closeups and distorted audio along with the sales associate explaining this new thing called the Wonderbra (all the rage) transformed this little home movie into a surreal curio. Add a dash of muzak and a reference to 90210. Stir.
THE FABULOUS STAINS
A short doc about a movie that is beloved to Sarah called LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS. Informative!
Short about being on the road. Probably semi-autobiographical. Features an audio clip from a Tom Waits tune.
A frantic black and white music video for sci-fi surf-rockers Man or Astro-man?
In Sweet Miss, a girl gets a group of friends who crashed her place to leave by playing disco music. Thanks her “patient neighbors downstairs” in the credits. Silly fun.
Several different cuts of a promotional video for the British riot grrrl band FLUFFY featuring music, performances, and band antics.
-Elliot “Rat” Ross