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26 January 2015

Beyond Clueless @ HPPH

We catch the train to Burley Park station and step off into the drizzle. I spent loads of time in this area last year, at friends' houses, parties, and lounging in Hyde Park during the summer months. Now, it feels resoundingly divorced from the Leeds I know as a young professional* living in the city centre (*professional, yeah right). I've kind of missed the rows and rows of red terraced houses, like bleeding gnashers, or a cracked out Coronation Street. It's got a kind of deviant charm, this place. 

Ollie Jenkins - HPPH 

N & I stroll through the students and grab some snacks from the corner shop, before heading down the road to Hyde Park Picture House. This is my first ever visit, and I feel like I'm undertaking a Leeds rite of passage. Everything about this historical cinema (opened in 1914) really reminds me of the Duke of York's in Brighton, which I went to regularly when it was at the bottom of my traffic-heavy mouse-laden road. Both have grand exteriors, and bring a majestic charm to their visually bleak surroundings. 

I always find going to the cinema a dreamy experience. You plonk yourself down in a comfy chair for one and a half - two hours (three if it's a Peter Jackson epic) and forget the world. No iPhone sitting beside you begging to be checked every ten minutes and making you miss crucial plotlines. No people yabbering away in your ear (apart from those AWFUL loud popcorn eaters, bag openers, and obnoxious whisperers). I love the feeling of just . . . letting go.

Today we've come to see Beyond Clueless, a film by young critic and blogger Charlie Lyne. The movie itself is organised in the format of the video essay. with Lyne slashing and sorting clips from hundreds of teen hits, released in the decade beyond 1995's Clueless, to chronicle their overarching inane (predominantly white) warped universe.


(Let's hope this current 90's revival we're having doesn't extend to head-to-toe plaid)

Hey, if you have a winning formula - why change it? If Freddie Prinze Jr. makes you the big bucks, then WHY NOT cast him in five films all with the same story, but with different high schools and different jock chums? Even films like I Know What You Did Last Summer that show a macabre (sometimes murderous) underbelly to the hierarchy fuelled microcosm still coexist in this world with breezier blockbusters, such as Bring It On... I said brrrrr it's cold in here, I said there must be some Tor... you know the drill.

The film is separated into chapters; we have Fitting In, Acting Out, Losing Yourself, Toeing the Line, and Moving On to explain the High School experience in its totality. These segments explore the implicit and sometimes explicit central thread of sexuality. We all remember THAT scene in Mean Girls where the coach informs his class to NOT have sex, because if they do they "WILL get pregnant and die"! He then throws handfuls of condoms at them. 

With such intense disapproval, shame, and scrutiny placed on teenage sexuality, it's no wonder that high schoolers struggle with the fear of and guilt of their natural urges. 

In Idle Hands, the main character spends the film wrestling figuratively and literally with his right hand, which has a mind of its own - a dirty mind. In the end, the protagonist must sever the hand from himself in order to stop the sexually-charged acts committed by his own flesh, but the hand becomes uncontrollable... 

These films, then, in their own menial way, hint at much bigger issues within American society than just which table should be sat at in the school cafeteria. We see students warring with themselves, as they come of age and feel the need to repress their sexual thoughts and feelings in order to fit into the wider, religiously 'pure' image of conformist America. 

And if we're talking about conforming, take She's All That. We see Laney, an expressive, creative individual, who only garners popularity when forced to cut her hair, wax, and fit into a slinky dress for the prom. Being crowned Prom Queen is seen as the ultimate achievement in life, with girls being steered away from their academic pursuits, into the role of the perfectly preened beauty queen. Feminist values are pretty much stamped out in these re-hashings of everyday misogynistic gender norms. 

I can't help but wonder: are these films portraying real life, or by their influence, do these films rule real life?

Despite the questionable ethics presented in these mainstream movies, they ARE culturally significant. The sheer amount that exist within the genre is overwhelming, proving that people enjoy these films, and that the teenage audience is not one to be ignored. Moreover, for us, as the viewer, we empathise with the universal struggles of adolescence, and we see ourselves in these characters. Okay, well, maybe not Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in Cruel Intentions, unless you too sniff blow from a crucifix necklace. 

The soundtrack is absolutely on point. Summer Camp, made up of Jeremy Warmsley (my schoolgirl crush circa 2006) and Elizabeth Sankey, provide an incredibly fitting musical manifesto for high school heartbreaks and lusty aches. Fairuza Balk's lyrical voiceover also helps to seamlessly merge the different films into a new, slick, teen movie in itself. Though sometimes Beyond Clueless falls into simple summarising terrority, its poignant angles on certain films, and its glowing aesthetic and aural presence make it a must-see for anyone who's grown up watching Cher Horowitz, Cady Heron, or any one of these confused, horny, red-cup sipping crusaders on VHS.

After the movie, Lyne takes the stage to answer questions from the crowd. He talks about the Kickstarter campaign that kickstarted (excuse the pun) his visual love letter to the genre, as well as the politics of queer representation in the medium. Engaging and charismatic, we warm to him instantly. He even invites everyone to the pub afterwards. What a gent. The idea is tempting, but home comforts are calling. 

I bid adieu to Hyde Park, my home away from home during final year, and feel like I'm migrating back to another city, leaving this separate sphere for another long spell. Or maybe, like the high school kids transcending the world they know as they jet into the new kingdom of College, I'm just saying goodbye again to another chapter of MY life. 

Beyond Clueless is now playing at cinemas nationwide. You can catch Summer Camp live scoring the film at the Ilkley Film Festival this February.

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