Narrated by cult teen star Fairuza Balk, writer/director Charlie Lyne’s first film Beyond Clueless is an epic visual odyssey through teen movies of the late ’90s/early 2000s, taking in over 200 films to explore the issues and themes at the heart of the genre.
Stacy Grouden caught up with Charlie ahead of its release and a special Q&A screening at the Light House Cinema this Sunday.
In terms of form, Beyond Clueless is quite unusual: kind of a visual essay with documentary elements. How would you describe it to someone? And what inspired you to use this form to explore this material?
The teen genre is really good at simultaneously fulfilling the most basic emotional needs of teenagers and also throwing some pretty subversive, challenging ideas at them. I wanted to attempt something similar by making a movie that could function as both an analysis of teen movies, and a teen movie in its own right.
How are you defining a ‘teen movie’, for your purposes?
I favour as broad a definition as possible, because I think any restrictions you put in place end up ruling out some really interesting, worthwhile films. My only criterion was that all of the movies in Beyond Clueless had to address — in one way or another — what it is to be an adolescent; what it is to be caught in that strange state between childhood and adulthood.
It’s clear there are iconographic elements common to teen movies of this era – which is on display in the film’s wonderful montages, and the structure being almost the same as a school year – even when the theme and tone of these movies appear wildly different. For example, Jawbreaker and She’s All That are in some ways worlds apart, but you get the transformative ‘plain-girl’ makeover in both. I guess I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on whether the largely-visual tropes of the genre inform its ideology, and unify teen movies that way? Is the overall message the same, because they look the same, even when on a broader generic level you could be dealing with films as different as Scream to Can’t Hardly Wait?
I think it’s more that the tropes and iconography create a jumping-off point for all that teen movies are capable of. The second you see that high-school corridor, those red party cups, or that prom queen tiara, you immediately recognise the world you’re being thrust into, which I think allows each individual film a certain amount of leeway in where they go from there. You can get away with a lot when people think they have you pegged.
You’ve featured over 200 films in Beyond Clueless, released from the mid-’90s onwards. With such a huge range of teen films to choose from, how did you decide which films to focus on in greater depth – were they films you particularly liked, or felt had common themes you wanted to explore in the film?
The first thing I did was map out how I wanted the film to work thematically, and from there it was just a question of finding the films that suited each of those themes best. And in practice, these tended not to be the most critically respected or financially successful films, but instead films that were a bit broken, or a bit crap, but had one element that really, really worked.
Can you tell me a little bit about Summer Camp’s soundtrack for the film? Did you communicate much about the kind of music you wanted for the film?
Summer Camp were practically my co-directors on the film. They were involved from the word go and took the lead on some of the sequences, while I took the lead on others. It was a collaborative process in the purest sense of the word — never a question of them fulfilling a brief, but us working together to work out how the film should look and feel.
What are your plans beyond Beyond Clueless? Are you hoping to make more films?
Yes! Boring answer I know but I’m forbidden from talking about it at the moment. I can promise you it will feature far less Devon Sawa than my first film though.
Beyond Clueless is released 23rdJanuary. Director Charlie Lyne will take part in a special Q&A screening of the film at 4pm on Sunday, 25th January at the Light House Cinema, Dublin, which will be followed by classic teen horror The Craft at 6.30pm.