Charlie Lyne, a culture blogger and film critic, has directed the stunning ‘clip-umentary’, Beyond Clueless, which deconstruucts and analyses the 90s/00s teen movie craze with incisive clarity. From 1995, when Amy Heckerling’s Clueless kickstarted a new wave of teen movies that lasted a decade, the genre tackled teenager life at the turn of the modern century, when uncertainty about the future was rife and the outsider angst of those teenage years seemed more universal than ever. From his London base, Lyne (pictured, below) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the films that both reflected and guided the teenage experience of the late 1990s and how they would inspire his feature directing debut….
Most great teen films from any period - Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate, Carrie, The Breakfast Club - take on alienation, rebellion, coming-of-age, blossoming sexuality, etc. What point of difference do the films from the 90's-00s display?
Lyne: I agree with you that the thematic preoccupations of the teen genre have been relatively consistent over the years and decades, but I think the 90s/00s era offered a really diverse range of approaches to tackling those subjects. Whereas before, the teen genre had been defined by a few key players - James Dean, Molly Ringwald, and so on - now it was blown wide open, and those key concerns you mention were being expressed through the mediums of horror, comedy, drama and a thousand other modes of storytelling.
1994-2004 was a period of immense social change and uncertainty. The end of the millennium was nigh; the Net in particular and technolgy in general was expanding exponentially. How were teen films influenced by, and reflect the teenagers place in, this new world?
Lyne: I think one of the greatest assets a teen movie can have is insularity, so that whatever major social, political and technological movements are happening in the background are rendered relatively insignificant compared with the minor emotional problems of our teenage protagonist. So events like Columbine, 9/11 and the rise of the internet certainly left their mark on the genre, but in quite an oblique way — they were refracted through characters, rather than being portrayed directly.
You top-and-tail the film with two big hits - Clueless (pictured, above) and Mean Girls - but many of the films referenced did not register at box office. It could be argued that this was the period when teens, consumed with new personal devices and video game tech, starting turning away from cinema-going. Were these films undervalued by their target audience at the time?
Not at all. There was no major decline in teenage cinema attendance in the 1990s as compared with the 1980s; it's just that teenagers in the '90s had a far wider range of teen films to choose from, with relatively few 'big hitters' to soak up all the box office. So instead of something like The Breakfast Club becoming a behemoth, the same amount of money was spread between Swimfan, Down To You (pictured, left), The Rage: Carrie 2 and a bunch of other movies that made more modest sums at the box office.
The melding of montage and the music of Summer Camp is a highlight of the film. Tell me about that process; did the visuals or the music come first? At what point were the band members involved?
Lyne: We worked in tandem throughout the whole process, so sometimes I would take the lead on a montage, sending them a short reel of footage, and sometimes they would send me a demo and I'd start cutting to that. It created a kind of feedback loop, where we just kept playing off of each other's ideas until we reached something that felt right. And they were involved from the very beginning, so this process went on for nearly a year.
Recall for us securing The Craft's Fairuza Balk as narrator? How was the project pitched to her and what were her reactions?
Lyne: Fairuza (pictured, right) had always been my number one choice for the narrator — she has that perfect blend of 'outsider' and 'insider' encapsulated in her voice — but for various reasons we couldn't bring anyone on board until the film was nearly complete, so there was always a part of me that worried we wouldn't get her. Thank God she said yes once we eventually asked, otherwise I'd have had to reimagine my whole perception of the film.
What did you discover about yourself in revisiting the films that helped form the film lover you are today?
I still love the teen movies of my youth as much as I did ten years ago, only now I recognise all the lessons I unknowingly learned from them — some good, some less so. The whole process taught me just as much about myself as it taught me about the oeuvre of Devon Sawa.
Beyond Clueless will screen as a double feature with Andrew Fleming's The Craft as the Closing Night event at the Perth Underground Film Festival; read the SCREEN-SPACE review of Beyond Clueless here.