Beyond Clueless

Last week my friend John rang and asked if I had heard of a film called Beyond Clueless and did I want to go and see it. I told him I hadn’t and he explained that it was a kind of mash-up of 90s teen flicks, and that sounded like something I would enjoy so he went ahead and booked. I spent the next few days reading some reviews and doing some research and started getting really excited about it! For those who don’t know, Beyond Clueless is a film essay about the 90s teen genre that exploits the fair use rule of using a few seconds of actual footage without having to pay licensing fees etc overplayed with the droll almost Daria-like tones of Fairuza Balk, herself a star of many of the movies included in this love-letter to the decade.

As someone who studied Film at university, this was a really interesting concept to me. I’m annoyed I didn’t think of it myself, it is literally the perfect way to explore a text/subject! Instead of wasting precious paragraphs explaining and depicting scenes in certain films or relying on your reader having prior knowledge about what the bloody hell you’re attempting to psychoanalyse, you could just show them instead. Actual genius. It was shocking for me to discover, before watching the film, that such a concept had been attempted by someone with no formal knowledge of film and was just, to put it blatantly, a massive geek. 

But this is where director and creator Charlie Lyne’s dedication to the art of cinema was really his strength. I don’t think any normal film fan, even the movie maniacs I attended Uni with and who could recite every line of every Tarantino film in chronological order and back again could stomach the gruelling task of sitting through 300 titles of even their favourite genre. It is hardcore stuff and a massive undertaking too. I feel in some ways the film was slightly let down by such a saturation of texts. Some critics were upset that Lyne didn’t attempt to analyse MORE films, talk more about the teen genre in the decades preceding and following the nineties. Woah! No. Even though we would always get comments in our lecturer’s critiques urging us to dig deeper I think this would have killed the project once and for all. From the way I experienced it Lyne gave his audience credit for who they were. Film scholars and those with an interest in genre studies would primarily be his audience, and as such I feel it is fair to assume some grounding knowledge of, for instance, the films of John Hughes in order to give a sturdier ground to his theory.

So what did I think? As a montage, a homage to that nineties Americana immortalised on screen by Freddie Prince Jr.’s eyebrows with a grunge soundtrack, it is amazing. The editing is perfect and a lot of the enjoyment I got from watching Beyond Clueless was by playing a mini game of ‘Guess the Movie’ silently with myself for the duration (I definitely wasn’t the only one doing that). Lyne was inclusive of the entirety of the genre from pop classics to horror to social realism, if it happened in the hallways of an all-American high school or its protagonist was quarterback on the football team, lyne picked up on it and you were included.  Despite nobody being able to argue this fact, a lot of Lyne’s key text choices were odd. He clearly had a more thorough knowledge of the genre (even after watching 300 films for the project) than your average cinema goer and as a result his tastes are rather niche. I feel that he could have developed a clearer argument had he chosen to ground them in more relatable and recognisable nineties movies.

Another gripe I have with Beyond Clueless is that, as someone who has formally studied the subject, it is frustrating for me to watch Lyne merely skim the surface of such unexplored territory. The language of psychoanalysis can seem far-fetched and amusing to those not accustomed to this application of theory to something as pop-culture as film but for me the tone of voice and attempts at decoding and explaining something so vast were all too familiar. I feel like I could have watched this documentary for hours, listening to the genre being excavated deeper and deeper for more knowledge and an enriched understanding, but because this is packed into a 90 minute slot it lacks a more intense evaluation from the director. Arguably Lyne’s inclusivity of all corners of the genre has handicapped him when attempting to provide some real juicy analysis.

As an essay film, Beyond Clueless could use a lot of work. I feel like film scholars would find it frustrating that the film theoretically dips its fingers into many pies of psychoanalysis but never really gets up close and personal enough to give any real bite. I adored it as a montage, though. It was such a pleasurable experience to dive into such a pool of nostalgia and become overwhelmed by all those great scenes, memorable characters and moments that gave me my love for the genre in the first place. It’s like finding that old CD you forgot about underneath the seat of your car, putting it on again and realising you still know every line. Especially for someone growing up in the nineties, these films spoke to my generation on a personal level. It says a lot to me that most critics trashed a lot of the movies that Lyne chose to include, almost like they didn’t ‘get’ what the genre was trying to do. The genre probably didn’t know what it was doing at the time either, other than being a rebellious break away from the idealistic portrayal of teen Americana in the John Hughes universe, and in doing that created a rich movement of film all its own that is finally beginning to be explored from a scholarly perspective.