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Narrator: Fairuza Balk.
Writer/director: Charlie Lyne.

Rating: 4.5/5

Detractors will claim Charlie Lyne’s clip-umentary Beyond Clueless, a vivid, captivating study of 90’s teen cinema, over-intellectualizes a period in the history of the genre that does not warrant such profundity. I mean, how deep can a Freddie Prinze Jr movie really be?

Yet Lyne, a UK-based cultural commentator and loud-&-proud teen movie advocate, affords the period that began with Amy Heckerling’s masterpiece Clueless and closed out with the Tina Fey-scripted Mean Girls a deeper sociological insight than it has ever undergone before. Beyond Clueless is an artfully rendered, thesis-like appraisal of the resonating relevance of such undervalued films as Idle Hands, Disturbing Behaviour, Can’t Hardly Wait (pictured, top), Bubble Boy, The Girl Next Door, Jeepers Creepers and Eurotrip, works derided by most film scholars (if they ever considered them at all).

Guided by the tonally rich narration of 90’s bad girl Fairuza Balk (her most famous film, Andrew Fleming’s witchcraft-clique thriller The Craft, is deconstructed in Lyne’s first volley of insight), Beyond Clueless utilises footage from approximately 200 films to paint a vast, incisive portrait of the teen experience as captured on film. Broken into chapters, Lyne and his sublimely talented team of editors tackle the very issues that teenagers and teenage films confront daily – the multi-tiered social structure of high-school; the us-vs-them sense of rebellion; discovering one’s sexuality, whatever form it takes; the existential struggle to find your own place on your own terms.

Each chapter rounds out with a montage of images that drive home Lyne’s conjecture to the beat of UK band Summer Camp, who provided an original soundtrack to the film. It is entirely fitting – most great teen films were driven by carefully chosen music that, until recently, would also top the album charts, and the music is eminently collectible. It adds immeasurably to the film’s high point, a spellbinding sequence of bloody, brutal images set to a driving metal riff that conveys the compulsion some teens develop for violence as an outlet.    

If the revered works of 80s auteur John Hughes define the moment when contemporary cinema gave teenagers a fresh, honest voice, Beyond Clueless teaches us that the life, loves and psychology of the turn-of-the-century teen were a harder-to-define mix of individualism, alienation and rebellion. Granted, these are all traits that have helped explain away the angst of teenagers since the dawn of man, but the eve of the new millennium brought its own unique period of ink-black uncertainty and rose-coloured hindsight. Teenagers felt the brunt of this tide of change; filmmakers tackled their concerns as best they could. Beyond Clueless captures the complexity of that brief but essential moment in a generation’s formation with great insight and deep humanity.

Director Charlie Lyne will preview Beyond Clueless and front a Q&A series across the U.K. from January 13. The film will screen in Australia at the Perth Underground Film Festival in February.

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