Girls, Sex and Movies
"Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore."
By Marc Savlov
MARCH 23, 1998: "I just got some e-mail saying that my film has been voted the third best movie of the year in Groningen, Holland, right after Seven and From Dusk Till Dawn. I'm psyched." That's 26-year-old indie-auteur-filmchick Sarah Jacobson summing up the state of her life in the wake of a full year spent joyously slogging through the trenches of indie film distribution. 1997 saw her feature debut, Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore, play Sundance (where it sold out), SXSW (where it sold out), and pretty much everywhere else in the free world (where it sold out and caused extended rioting). She has also been named one of Girl Culture's 50 most influential people by Spin magazine, has become best buds with Girl icons Kim Gordon and Tamra Davis, is returning to SXSW this year as a panelist and judge, and is gearing up for Mary Jane's debut at the Dobie Theatre on Sunday, March 22.
Mary Jane details the events that follow the deflowering of its young protagonist in a brutally honest, righteously funny fashion, touching on everything from the joys of masturbation to the inanities of stupid punk rock boys. It's a chick flick that even the guys can call their own, and Jacobson's 24/7 DIY work ethic has made it a cause célèbre across the globe.
I spoke with Jacobson over the course of the last year in between various e-mail updates documenting her travels, troubles, and why Hollywood bimbos always get the shaft.
Austin Chronicle: For those people who aren't familiar with your story, fill us in on what came before Mary Jane.
Sarah Jacobson: I did a short called I Was a Teenage Serial Killer which actually went on to have a pretty amazing life for a 27-minute black-and-white short. It played all over the world, Sassy wrote it up, Film Threat, Grand Royal, a bunch of magazines like that. It really became kind of a cult hit.
I think women filmmakers are more comfortable with documentaries because you don't really have to boss people around to do a documentary, you're always sort of following someone else. But personally, I like to boss people around, so I jumped right into filmmaking.
Anyway, that film gave us a really good base and it got my name out there, so that when I got around to doing Mary Jane we had already proved to people that we could do something and get it out there.
AC: How long did you end up working on Mary Jane?
SJ: Three years from start to finish. From writing the script to the debut at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. I never know whether to include all the lab stuff we had to go through, either, because it took four extra months dealing with the lab because the print wasn't of good quality and we could only get them to redo it once we got into Sundance.
AC: Mary Jane is unlike anything I've ever seen, in that the female point of view is so bold. I mean, nobody's going to mistake this for one of John Milius' old films, you know?
SJ: Oh yeah. One of the reasons I made the movie was because I really wanted to tell guys what I liked about sex, instead of just saying, "It's different for girls." I wanted guys to be able to see it from a girl's point of view and kind of understand women and not have to be all embarrassed about it. To tell you the truth, there's been a lot of young guys who have been so into the movie.
For women who see it, it's like, maybe there's a girl out there who hasn't discovered her clit or doesn't know about masturbation or her sexuality in general. A guy friend of mine said we ought to airdrop copies of the film to girls in the South because they're so unaware of their sexuality. He was talking from experience, too, and I thought, god, what a compliment that is.
Ultimately, I'd just like the film to open up a whole side of women's sexuality that just isn't there right now. Or even to provoke the whole argument about masturbation. I mean, how dare they fire Joycelyn Elders for suggesting that kids should jerk off. I mean, it's free!
AC: And safe.
AC: Tell me how Tamra Davis [Half-Baked, Billy Madison] got involved with the film. She helped finance it, right?
SJ: I actually met her at a zine convention in Los Angeles. She was there and saw that I was selling copies of I Was a Teenage Serial Killer and we got to talking about her first film, Guncrazy, and movies in general. At that time, she was one of the few working women directors in Hollywood. I kept her on my mailing list while we were shooting Mary Jane, and when it was done I sent her a trailer. She really loved it, so she gave us money and ended up officially investing in the film later on.
That was a really weird time for me, because I'd be editing my film in this skid-row office in San Francisco and then all of the sudden I'd be over at Tamra Davis' house and going to all this really cool stuff and meeting all these really cool people who wanted to help me out. I'd be standing there with Kim Gordon on one side and Liz Phair on the other and it was like, "This is so weird." Back home I'm getting spit on by bums. Tamra really helped us pull through. That was amazing, just to be able to know that you have that kind of support from other women filmmakers, knowing that there's somewhat of a community and that you're not so alone.
AC: Let's talk semantics: feminist filmmaker or just plain filmmaker?
SJ: I consider myself a feminist filmmaker, definitely. The whole reason I got into film was because I never saw cool girls in films that I liked. I have no fear of the word "feminist." I know that that has certain negative connotations to some people, but then why should I let other people's stupidity bully what I want to do, right?
To me, feminism means that I should have an equal opportunity to do what I want to do as a woman. I don't want to be better than men, I don't want to shut men up. It's like, look, you've got your little thing over here, you've got your B-movie aesthetic, and I've got my interpretation of it that girls can enjoy, too, so you don't always have to watch the bimbo get raped or slashed or stalked or whatever.
That's what Serial Killer was, you know? A reaction to the serial killer chic that was so "in" at the time. I thought it would be fun to kind of turn the tables on it all. You had all these guys going, "Yeah! Kill the girl! Kill the girl!" and it was like, "Hey, why don't we just kill the guy?" But only the stupid ones, because, you know, not all guys are bad. Some of my best friends are men.
AC: Why do you think Hollywood relegates women to these kinds of roles?
SJ: I think anyone who tries to do anything different in Hollywood is going to run into some hostility... men or women. But this is what I wanted to do, to change the way women are represented in the movies. I don't want to wait for some guy to come down off his horse to save me. It's like I'll just do it myself.
And really, I just want to make the kinds of movie that I'd like to see. I like punk rock, I like things to be fun, and I don't think you necessarily have to be serious all the time. I realize people have their own agendas, but that's usually so boring; I don't want someone to lecture me and I don't want someone to tell me how to be a feminist. I just want to show what I think is cool and then if people like it, great, and if they don't then it doesn't really offend me either.
AC: You've spent literally the entire last year showing your film all over the U.S. and Europe. What was the best part of that?
SJ: It's just so nice to travel as a filmmaker because you're always treated as a guest no matter where you are. And it's easy to pick up boys. That was the real fun part.
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