Last night, I attended a screening of Beyond Clueless at the BFI, a Kickstarted film made by the blogger Ultra Culture, also known as Charlie Lyne. It’s a “a dizzying journey into the mind, body and soul of the teen movie, as seen through the eyes of over 200 modern coming-of-age classics.” A bit of a no brainer – I was, am, and probably always will be obsessed with teen cinema to the point that I’ve attended most of the Prince Charles Cinema’s teen film PJ parties over the past couple of years. A documentary, claiming to be “the first major study”, of a genre I love – yes please.
However, I didn’t see much of a study. There was certainly a heck of a lot of clips, and kudos to Charlie for his research as it definitely was thorough. His montages of high school settings, swimming pool splashy splashy, and sexual awakenings contained a phenomenal amount of source material and there were a huge number of films I didn’t recognise – the citation list in the credits was intimidating. The editing was also to a very high standard which was something I really enjoyed.
But no one gets awards simply for watching a lot of films (I should know; I did two film degrees back in the day). You have to make a point, you have to find meaning or a something linking the films together. You can’t just show endless shots of teens ‘being destructive’ and not tell the viewer what you think this means. The narration by Fairuza Balk was at times completely superfluous as it wasn’t adding anything to the visuals.
Every so often, Charlie would start towards some kind of critical analysis, and I’d silently beg for him to go further but it didn’t seem to happen. One of the films he focused on was 13 Going on 30, a film which I shamefully love. A reading of the film that I had never considered was that Mark Ruffalo’s Matty is only interested in the teenaged Jennifer Garner’s Jenna, and that Jenna decides to give up her successful career in order to be with Matty. Holy crap! I have been watching this film so blindly, my feminist self hadn’t really acknowledged this. Charlie noted it, but then didn’t take it any further – why is a grown man only attracted to a teenage persona? Why does she have to give up everything? Are there any parallels to Never Been Kissed?
He also focused on the weirdest films – how someone can skip over Donnie Darko or Romeo + Juliet, choosing instead to examine Slap Her, She’s French or The Girl Next Door is utterly baffling. I understand that these are probably the films that he knows, that he’s comfortable with, but that is not what one should expect from a documentary film maker. He really needed to push himself further, otherwise the only thing this documentary becomes is “A list of Charlie Lyne’s favourite films”. 90% of the films he featured told the stories of heteronormative white boys – no mention in the narration of how gender, race, or sexuality can affect or influence a storyline. Only a sideways dig about the fear of being gay by a couple of straight boys in Eurotrip (ugh) and Jeepers Creepers.
If I had brought the narration to my dissertation supervisor 10 years ago (sidenote – 10 years ago? Really?), she would have congratulated me on my research, and then gone through paragraph by paragraph saying “and what does this mean?”. Handed in, it might have scraped a lower second class degree. The film was a visual representation of IMDB with a couple of user comments from the forums thrown in as an aside.
The soundtrack was brilliant however, and we watched the film with Summer Camp playing live. I bought a CD after the show and told Jeremy Warmsley how much I enjoyed the set. I’ll definitely be downloading the soundtrack – it was perfect.
I don’t want to be so critical, or take away from the astonishing achievement that Charlie has made here – this is yet another good example of what Kickstarter should be used for. This man started out as a blogger, moved on to writing for the Guardian and now has made a film that’s shown at SXSW and the BFI. That is amazing, and let’s be honest, something that the films I’ve written will likely never achieve (sadface).
But one quote struck me from the narration, and seemed to sum up the whole doc for me – Charlie is “searching for answers to a question he doesn’t understand”. Which is a shame when so much could be said about this much maligned genre.