NICOLA WATKINSON gives her take on Charlie Lyne’s recent ‘innovative experiment on the possibilities of cine-essays’, Beyond Clueless.
Beyond Clueless is a new kind of documentary: rather than being composed of, say, interviews and clips from the films being referenced, it consists entirely of scenes from popular teen movies – over 200 in total – and combines them into a kind of cine-essay on the genre, with Summer Camp’s specially-composed soundtrack and teen star Fairuza Balk’s voiceover the only original elements.
Divided into chapters with titles such as ‘Fitting In’, ‘Acting Out’ and ‘Toeing the Line’, this documentary follows the Hollywood teen movie’s familiar journey through high school, splicing clips from different films to show more clearly the parallels and differences between them. Although many of the films used were classics of the genre – such as Clueless, which gave the documentary its name, or Mean Girls – there were also many other kinds of teen movie used, making for an interesting comparison in the way certain stereotypical teen experiences (crushes, sex, drugs, alcohol) are explored and portrayed. For example, a lot of thrillers and horror films were used, with both Jeepers Creepers and Idle Hands being analysed in detail for their alternative explorations of sexuality, within a section of psychoanalytical readings of the films.
Other non-stereotypical teen movies included in the documentary were Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet and 13 Going on 30, showing an awareness that, although the genre’s main territory is “the high school experience”, there are many other valuable films which make attempts to address the same issues in a totally different context. However, it is difficult to see why some of these films have been included – and some of the most iconic films of the genre, such as The Virgin Suicides and even Clueless itself, barely get a look-in. Although the psychoanalytic readings of certain films’ treatments of sexuality or cliques is fantastic, other films are only briefly summarised and don’t receive any analysis, prompting the question of whether Beyond Clueless would have been better off including fewer films with more discussion.
Summer Camp’s original soundtrack is highly appropriate for the documentary, with tracks that capture as fully as possible the “teenage experience,” as well as being a useful way of tying clips from different films together, giving a sense of cohesion. Although there are moments which could have benefitted from more direction or deeper analysis, Beyond Clueless is a serious attempt to analyse and legitimise a genre that is often dismissed, as well as being in itself an innovative experiment on the possibilities of cine-essays. The power of the documentary derives from its audio-visual element; they don’t just remind us of our favourite movies, but allow us to re-watch and re-live them in a new context. Beyond Clueless is a powerful exploration of a genre that is, in the words of creator Charlie Lyne, at once “incredibly populist and incredibly intimate… incredibly superficial and incredibly deep.”