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Beyond Clueless

Combining a movie mash-up with a cinema essay, this documentary explores the fun and fears of teens and teen movies.
Beyond Clueless

Think teen movies, and most will think the 1980s, a time considered by many to the heyday of the genre. Yet, just as every decade has its own brood of adolescents on the cusp of adulthood, it also has its own breed of representations in cinema, both bad and good. John Hughes and his features Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off followed in the footsteps of films and filmmakers gone by, keeping a trend ablaze that more would uphold in turn. In 1995, Amy Heckerling’s Clueless revitalised the hunger for depictions of high school trials and tribulations, inspiring others to traverse the same path. 

A medley of reminiscence and perceptiveness, Beyond Clueless explores the angst, irreverence, satire and even terror that came next, packaged partly as a movie mash-up, and partly as a cinema essay. In the style of Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinema, and Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film and A Story of Children and Film, critic turned writer and director Charlie Lyne makes his filmmaking debut obsessively stepping through more than 200 efforts released in the late 1990s and early 2000s, weaving clips into an analysis of typical stories and themes clearly fashioned in their image.

Accordingly, the film contemplates the spell teen movies cast, both over stars and characters destined to tell similar tales and tackle comparable issues, and over the eager audience the genre feeds and the tropes reflect. Variety isn’t overlooked in apparent and underappreciated sources, as everything from The Girl Next Door to Jeepers Creepers and Mean Girls to 13 Going on 30 rates a mention; however a common, collective narrative emerges, even from diverse parts such as The Faculty, Cruel Intentions, Bubble Boy, Idle Hands, Josie and the Pussycats, and Crossroads. In the same vein as Matt Wolf’s documentary Teenage, albeit using cinema rather than archival footage, the feature brings its array of snippets together to craft a wide-ranging portrait of the fun and fears of youth.

Narrator Fairuza Balk steps out of The Craft, the first movie considered in depth, to give voice to the feature’s musings – some astute, some obvious, but all convincingly endeavouring to engage with the material beyond its usual confines as ostensibly clichéd entertainment. As the assemblage of moving parts melds together, Lyne examines the way in which the highs and lows of the age group blend between reality and filmic fiction, issues of sexuality, identity, individuality, maturity and mortality included. In thematic chapters, well-edited collages reminiscent of György Pálfi’s Final Cut: Ladies And Gentlemen emphasise the commonality and continuity of representations of the teenage experience. The sounds of UK band Summer Camp offers the amalgam its own soundtrack, one suitably ethereal and wistful in fitting with the gaze afforded the material. 

Of course, nostalgia plays a considerable part in the appeal of Beyond Clueless and its attempted encapsulation of a particular type of movie for those of the right age. Viewers who watched many of the films featured as the backdrop of their own tender years will share an understanding of and affection for the content, context and conclusions drawn; however the movie’s appeal exceeds the already acquainted, their memories, and the "where are they now?" questions that emanate. Those who didn’t grow up with these specific examples will have crossed paths with their own, with fondness – for the genre, and for the patchwork-like documentary devoted to it – stemming from the universality of the footage and the life stage it captures. Indeed, Beyond Clueless demonstrates that teenage existence endures in cinema in perpetuity, both as a dream and as a nightmare.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Beyond Clueless
Director: Charlie Lyne
UK, 2013, 89 mins

Perth Underground Film Festival
12-21 February

Sarah Ward

Friday 20 February, 2015

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay