It’s enough to make you cry angsty teen tears over your lack of life achievement. At the age of just 23, Charlie Lyne is editor of UK film blog Ultra Culture, home entertainment columnist for The Guardian and a contributor for the BBC’s The Film Programme. Last year saw the release of his debut film Beyond Clueless, a film documenting every teen movie hit and miss from Clueless to Mean Girls. Yes that’s right, these films are worthy of academic criticism now, so watching them doesn’t even count as procrastination! I had a chat with Charlie to see why this genre is one worth looking back on.
What is Beyond Clueless?
It’s an essay film about teen movies, so it’s something that attempts to critique the world of teen movies using teen movies themselves. I hope it feels like a love letter but also an analysis of the genre.
We definitely got the vibe that teen movies are a passion of yours.
I think they’d have to be otherwise I would have gone slightly insane!
Well the man I sat next to was laughing slightly insanely but the less said about that the better..
I promise you that wasn’t me!
So, what is it about the teen movie genre that allows its continued popularity today?
When a teen movie works, it will always have a place in the landscape of cinema because there will always be teenagers. When movies come out that appeal to them, those movies will always be appreciated. These movies tend to come in waves so when there is a lack of new films around people tend to look back at older teen movies. These films connect with each successive generation and stay close to those teenagers as they grow up. The films of my adolescence still feel incredibly meaningful to me today and they always will if they catch you at that right time when you’re most impressionable.
Do you think it’s interesting that British teens find these movies so relatable despite the majority of them being set in American high schools?
I have an American half-sister, and even though that world is cosmetically modelled on the American experience, it still probably seems like an alternate universe to her just as it does to us. It’s still so heightened and bizarre, it follows its own rules. The importance of each film lies in its emotional resonance and whether that is true to life. That is what you are looking for more than a character that matches you exactly.
Do you think there was a heyday for the teen movie?
I’m always hesitant to say that because I think each generation thinks their own generation of teen movies was the best one. So obviously I feel the most passionate about the ones that I grew up with! The one thing that is nice about the era that we look at in the film itself [1995-2004], is that this was the time when teen movies really broadened out as a genre. In the 80s for example, teen movies were ruled over by a small number of people – John Hughes, the brat pack etc. What you see in the 90s is an incredible amount of diversification – to me this feels fitting for a genre that is mean to appeal to teenagers who themselves are such a disparate group.
In an article about Beyond Clueless for The Independent, you wrote that teenagers are able to appreciate this genre because they are less likely to impose filters on what they are seeing. Do you think it is important that we develop these disapproving filters in adult life or are they a hinderance?
I don’t know, it’s inevitable for sure. But one of the things that the process of making the film has taught me to do is not to switch off the second I sense that a movie isn’t great. One of my favourite things to do now is to persevere with a film even when I sense that it isn’t great, and look for one element that is really original or interesting or provocative for whatever reason and not worry so much about whether the film is wholly good or interesting. That is an immensely valuable thing to learn as it opens you up to such a wide array of movies and not just the tiny few that have been critically ordained as perfect films.
Do you think this film is an attempt at rationalising the teen emotional charge for an adult audience?
It’s a bit of everything really, it certainly impossible to disconnect these movies from their audience. Watching the films for me as an adult is very much like watching my teenage self. Where the emotion of those films is most resonant is because they remind me of my own emotions at 14/15. There is a certain amount of rationalising in that I felt like I was performing therapy on myself by re-watching these films and trying to make sense of them, but equally, I think there is always that sense of real power to these films that make them very hard to rationalise. The raw emotion of that world is hard to put into words but by making Beyond Clueless in this way, we didn’t have to – instead we could translate it and show it on screen.
Faruiza Balk’s characteristically adolescent cynical narration draws attention to the fact that in many of these films, the female character is made to sacrifice her individuality in order to be popular/get the guy. Do you think this suggests that teen movies are gendered at all?
I’d be hesitant to make any big generalisations because it is such a broad genre, but there are many movies that are very progressive, an have really interesting takes on gender – Faruiza was in many of them, not least The Craft. But at the same time, those prejudices have always been a part of the teen movie and still are today. Major problems with gender, sexuality and especially race are hard to get away from in this genre. The fact that these movies are so similar and visually and aesthetically occupy the same space makes it easy to start thinking of them as one film. Ginger Snaps is a brilliant feminist piece of work, and it’s enlivening to watch. I would go straight from watching that to something like The Girl Next Door, expecting it to be as progressive and obviously it’s not, so it’s quite disheartening. One of the nicest things about working with Faruiza, is that she strikes the perfect balance between insider and outsider. It is clear that she is an insider, our guide through that world, but the cynicism and skepticism in her tone is so potent.
What do you think the future holds for teen movies?
It’s something that I always think is hard for me to say because I am no longer a teenager! To guess whether teen movies are working for the current generation is hard. They do seem to be on the up again and there are movies coming out now that are definitely working for that audience. I don’t thinkThe Fault in Our Stars was a film that was seen by a lot of people over 19 and yet it made a third of a billion dollars at the box office. Something like that is as clear a sign as you are going to get that teen movies are finding their feet again. To me that movie was baffling and awful but that’s probably ideal in that it’s not for me and if I’m getting confused and angry about it that’s probably the best sign you could look for!
Beyond Clueless is out on iTunes and Netflix now!