Writer and director Charlie Lyne presents BEYOND CLUELESS, a visual essay that gets under the skin of the American teen movie.
Lyne is best known as a home entertainment columnist for The Guardian, and is also a freelance writer for Buzzfeed, Little White Lies and Vice, and an occasional contributor to the BBC’s The Film Programme. This debut feature was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, and having premiered at SXSW in 2014 has proceeded to official selection at a plethora of prestigious film festivals and garnered high praise from all corners of the press.
The film glides chapter by chapter through the cinematic conventions of the American wet dream that is the teen film. Icons of the genre float across the screen to the mesmerising sounds of the aptly named Summer Camp. The soundtrack lends the film the feel of a feature-length music video as scenes of the dizzying highs and desperate lows of high school are played out.
The ubiquitous coming-of-age genre is dissected and examined. Lyne focuses our gaze on the all-American square-jawed jocks who are stunned by the transformation of the girl next door into a prom queen. But it’s not all unrequited love and the thrill of a first kiss – blood and guts in high school are spilled aplenty. The extracts we’re shown range from comedies – including the film’s namesake CLUELESS (1995), EMPIRE RECORDS (1995) and 13 GOING ON 30 (2004) – to dark horror and thrillers such as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), THE FACULTY (1998) and FINAL DESTINATION (2000). The soundtrack lulls us into a soporific state as the teenager’s boredom and ennui is revealed. But as the film progresses, the crash of distorted guitars rises to a sickening crescendo as pubescent sexuality, violent hormonal urges and aggressive adolescent bloodlust are satisfied.
As the film’s narrator, the perfectly placed Fairuza Balk – herself a teen movie icon – intones: “Teens who seek to subvert protocol are immediately suspect.” Cliques and hierarchies are threatened by individuals who want to transcend their boundaries. The push and pull of youth, experience and responsibility are the key themes of Lyne’s love letter to cult and mainstream American teen flicks. Balk continues: “If they fail to assert themselves as individuals, they’ll be left to a life of empty fantasy.” Lyne dissects the desire of tribal teen groups to remain a cohesive mass, the inevitability of maturity, and the need to become the people they’ll be after they’ve shrugged off their graduation gowns.