• The Films Of Sarah Jacobson (AGFA) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: AGFA
    Released on: September 17th, 2019.
    Director: Sarah Jacobson
    Cast: Lisa Gerstein, Chris Enright, Greg Cruikshank, Garry Marshall, Davey Havok
    Year: 1996/1993
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    The Films Of Sarah Jacobson – Movie Review:

    AGFA presents a nice collection that serves as a tribute to the late Sarah Jacobson, the indie filmmaker who passed away in 2004 from cancer after studying under George Kuchar and making a name for herself with the two pictures included on this set.

    Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore:

    Jacobson's only feature film, made in 1996, centers around Jane (Lisa Gerstein), a high school senior, who works at an arthouse theater downtown called The Victoria. Jane doesn’t really fit in with the suburbanites she’s surrounded by and is tired of her parents constantly bickering back and forth. One night, a friend of a friend named Steve (Shane Kramer) winds up taking her out on a date and, as the title implies, they have sex, Jane for the first time.

    It isn’t a positive experience for Jane. Not only did it not feel so good, it left her a bit of a wreck emotionally. She also found out that Steve’s whole reason for going on the date in the first place was to use Jane as conquest. Jane talks to some of the people that she works with at the theater about this and mentions it to Steve’s friend, Matt (Andrew David DeAngelo), but they don’t seem to see it the same way that she does. Later, she talks to her older gay boss, Dave (Greg Cruikshank), about the incident and then things take an interesting turn for her when she meets Tom (Chris Enright), the new guy hired to work at the theater with her.

    This is an uneven film to be sure but it’s charming in the way that low budget, punk-inspired coming of age stories can be. The acting is less than great and the very low budget definitely shines through, but the characters are relatable enough at times and if the plot isn’t super dense it doesn’t have any trouble holding our interest. Jacobson is savvy enough to toss sentimentality to the wind, and the movie is all the better for it. The humor that is worked into the film is generally pretty effective (though a few bits fall flat here). The film deals with issues of sexuality and disenfranchisement rather well and it feels like a very honest slice of life presentation.

    Also look out for cameos from Kuchar himself, AFI’s Davey Havok and none other than Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys/Guantanamo School Of Medicine fame. Filmmaker Tamra Davis, who made her debut in 1992 with Gun Crazy which she then followed up with the one/two punch of CB4 and Billy Madison, helped get the movie financed.

    I Was a Teenage Serial Killer:

    Also included is the twenty-seven-minute short from 1993, the black and white I Was A Teenage Serial Killer (which is actually found in the extras section on the disc but we’re going to review it here alongside the other feature just to be contrarian). Made under Kuchar’s guidance, the film follows a nineteen-year-old girl named Mary (Kristin Calabrese) who gets sick of being hit on by men and having lousy sex wit h them. She decides to hit back and start killing them, offing one for every year she’s been on this planet. She’s not all that discerning when it comes to picking her victims, taking out some ex’s, a random guy on the sidewalk unfortunate enough to make a pass, and even her own brother.

    Made on a super low budget with a cast of amateur actors, this one is definitely rough around the edges but it isn’t without its own screwy charm. There’s a definite and clearly intentional satirical streak running through the film in a big way and it’s amusing to see how it subverts serial killer movie tropes. As it was essentially a student film it makes sense that it would lack the spit and polish of a more professional production but the stark black and white cinematography fits the mood of the piece quite nicely even if the acting is more than a little clunky.

    The Films Of Sarah Jacobson – Blu-ray Review:

    Both films are presented in 1.33.1, which would seem to be their original aspect ratio, taken from brand new 2K preservations from the only 16mm film elements in existence. Mary Jane is in color but the colors are somewhat faded from time to time and there is noticeable print damage, mostly minor. Overall this one looks quite decent. Serial Killer is black and whit and occasionally shows harsh contrast and, again, a fair bit of print damage. AGFA was clearly at the mercy of the elements here, but with that said, these are more than watchable HD presentations presented on properly authored discs, meaning they look like film – no edge enhancement or noise reduction and no compression problems.

    The DTS-HD Mono audio, again, is likely as good as it can be given what there is to work with for these features. Some of the dialogue sounds a little flat and a little hollow but you’ll be able to understand it will enough. Some occasional hiss is noticeable but the levels are balanced well enough. These tracks aren’t fancy but they get the job done.

    Included in the extras alongside I Was A Teenage Serial Killer are a few of Jacobson's short films and music videos. The twelve-minute Bra Shopping is an odd piece wherein Jacobson and her mother go bra-shopping. It’s funny and odd. There’s also a twelve-minute piece in here called The Fabulous Stains that is a look back at the popular cult item, Ladies And Gentlemen… The Fabulous Stains that features some great interviews with the cast and crew looking back on the 1982 production. This was made shortly before Jacobson’s death in 2004. The ten-minute Road Movie, Or What I Learned In A Buick Station Wagon is also quite funny, and is in its own bizarre way a middle finger to the critics. Also be sure to check out the three-minute video for Man Or Astro-Man?’s Spferic Waves and the thirty-two-minute Technicolor-Yawn-Fluffy (which is a document of a nineties live performance for the punk band Fluffy).

    Included alongside the discs are some welcome liner notes by Alicia Coombs of AGFA and Annie Choi of Bleeding Skull! Both essays are definitely worth reading, they lend some insight into the appeal of Jacobson’s work and offer up some historical details as well.

    The Films Of Sarah Jacobson – The Final Word:

    The Films Of Sarah Jacobson is a nice tribute to a filmmaker who was taken before she really had her time to shine. Still, if these films area rough around the edges they are both quite entertaining and show a lot of potential that, sadly, Jacobson would never really get to exploit. AGFA has done a nice job bringing these to Blu-ray and preserving the films digitally. The transfers may reflect the less than perfect condition of the available elements but they’re plenty watchable enough and the extras round out the package quite nicely.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Films Of Sarah Jacobson Blu-ray screen caps!