Beyond Clueless: a visual essay on teen movies from 1994-2004.
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Beyond Clueless: a giant campus of candy-coloured teen life

Half-love letter, half-biopsy, Charlie Lyne's documentary analysis of teen movies is full of flashes of madness.

To the Prince Charles Cinema last week for a preview of Beyond Clueless, a documentary analysis of the modern teen movie. The tone of this debut from the 23-year-old filmmaker Charlie Lyne is best described as half-love letter, half-biopsy. A series of montages divided into chapters guides the viewer through common themes in high-school movies—chief among these being the pressure to conform, seen at its most extreme in Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, a kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers 90210. The conceit is that the several hundred movies from which Lyne has harvested excerpts all inhabit the same world, aesthetically and thematically. Clueless gives way to Drive Me Crazy, She’s All That to 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls to Disturbing Behaviour, all the clips cut together so that they seem to be happening on one giant campus.

The pinnacle of this sort of visual essay, which works as the cinematic equivalent of a word association game, would be Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, which comprises screen representations of LA, or Christian Marclay's 24-hour video installation The Clock, constructed from visual representations of time in film. Beyond Clueless is a modest piece which makes no claims to be in that class but it shares some key DNA. It recognises the sparks that can be generated, the insinuations made, when one piece of film is placed next to another in defiance of its creator’s original intentions.

In the Q&A after the screening, hosted by Adam Buxton at his wryest, Lyne invoked the word “exorcism” to describe the process of picking over in detail the films which had bewitched him as a teenager. And there is the sense in Beyond Clueless that the authorial voice is asking not only “What did these films do to me?” but also, incredulously and at times angrily, “How could they?” The slant of the film suggests an adult interrogating those who wronged him as a child.

Or those who wronged her. Though Lyne is the writer-director, one of the keys to the picture’s effectiveness is the dazed voiceover by Fairuza Balk, the actress whose career began on the electro-convulsive therapy table as the young Dorothy in the disturbing 1983 prequel Return to Oz. Her presence on the soundtrack of Beyond Clueless is highly symbolic: she was one of the stars of The Craft, the 1996 thriller about a coven of high-school witches. Balk (she is perfectly named: balk is exactly what you do when you see her intense, unnerving face) introduced an element of danger and unpredictability into The Craft, and she brings that also to parts of Beyond Clueless. She offers both an American ratification of this British film—she’s an actual escapee from the teen genre, called back from adulthood to deliver its last rites—and the perfect, Mogadon-fogged delivery for a picture that seems to be emerging from its own movie rehab.

Sometimes the wooziness blurs into wooliness. There is slightly too much recourse to the synopsis format in which we are shown a condensed version of a film’s plot (though it helps that some of these—Bubble Boy, starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, and the teen horror Idle Hands—are unfamiliar). The analyses are not always as sharp as they might have been, relying on the sort of connective tissue that will be familiar to any writer who has ever struggled to link two unrelated paragraphs. That becomes most apparent during the best sequence: the commentary on 13 Going On 30 matches so precisely with the excerpts we are shown that we may wish the rest of the movie had that degree of acuity.

As a rule, Beyond Clueless works better the blander the clips are. When a film with real vision and scope of its own intrudes on its scrapbook world, even for a moment, there is a sudden imbalance. A mere ten or 20 seconds of Rushmore or Y Tu Mamá También can easily pull us out of the homogeneous teen world; they have a visual immediacy that jeopardises the candy-coloured spell and interrupts the parade of geeks and jocks and cheerleaders.

But a good filmmaker knows that cinema is not merely a visual medium. Music can knit everything together and in this respect the score by the British band Summer Camp is an eerie, delicate triumph. (Check out the track “Swimming Pool”, which accompanies one of the movie’s creepiest sequences and can be heard on the trailer.) Beyond Clueless may be messy in places but it’s also strange, occasionally disorienting and full of flashes of madness. Not unlike adolescence itself.

Beyond Clueless is on release from 23 January.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.


Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.


May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.


Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.


Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor

John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump