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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How power shifted dramatically in this week’s Game of Thrones

The best-laid plans of Mothers and men often go awry.

Last week’s Game of Thrones was absolutely full of maps. It had more maps than a Paper Towns/Moonrise Kingdom crossover. More maps than an Ordnance Survey walking tour of a cartographer’s convention. More maps than your average week on CityMetric.

So imagine the cheers of delight when this week’s episode, “Stormborn”, opened with – yes, a map! Enter Daenerys, casting her eyes over her carved table map (Ikea’s Västeross range, I believe), deciding whether to take King’s Landing and the iron throne from Cersei or a different path. After some sassy debates with Varys over loyalty, more members of her court enter to point angrily at different grooves in the table as Dany and Tyrion move their minature armies around the board.

In fact, this whole episode had a sense of model parts slotting pleasingly into place. Melisandre finally moved down the board from Winterfell to Dragonstone to initiate the series’ most inevitable meeting, between The King of the North and the Mother of Dragons. Jon is hot on her heels. Arya crossed paths with old friends Hot Pie and Nymeria, and the right word spoken at the right time saw her readjust her course to at last head home to the North. Tyrion seamlessly anticipated a move from Cersei and changed Dany’s tack accordingly. There was less exposition than last week, but the episode was starting to feel like an elegant opening to a long game of chess.

All this made the episode’s action-filled denouement all the more shocking. As Yara, Theon and Ellaria dutifully took their place in Dany’s carefully mapped out plans, they were ambushed by their mad uncle Euron (a character increasingly resembling Blackbeard-as-played-by-Jared-Leto). We should have known: just minutes before, Yara and Ellaria started to get it on, and as TV law dictates, things can never end well for lesbians. As the Sand Snakes were mown down one by one, Euron captured Yara and dared poor Theon to try to save her. As Theon stared at Yara’s desperate face and tried to build up the courage to save her, we saw the old ghost of Reek quiver across his face, and he threw himself overboard. It’s an interesting decision from a show that has recently so enjoyed showing its most abused characters (particularly women) delight in showy, violent acts of revenge. Theon reminds us that the sad reality of trauma is that it can make people behave in ways that are not brave, or redemptive, or even kind.

So Euron’s surprise attack on the rest of the Greyjoy fleet essentially knocked all the pieces off the board, to remind us that the best-laid plans of Mothers and men often go awry. Even when you’ve laid them on a map.

But now for the real question. Who WAS the baddest bitch of this week’s Game of Thrones?

Bad bitch points are awarded as follows:

  • Varys delivering an extremely sassy speech about serving the people. +19.
  • Missandei correcting Dany’s High Valerian was Extremely Bold, and I, for one, applaud her. +7.
  • The prophecy that hinges on a gender-based misinterpretation of the word “man” or “prince” has been old since Macbeth, but we will give Dany, like, two points for her “I am not a prince” chat purely out of feminist obligation. +2.
  • Cersei having to resort to racist rhetoric to try and persuade her own soldiers to fight for her. This is a weak look, Cersei. -13.
  • Samwell just casually chatting back to his Maester on ancient medicine even though he’s been there for like, a week, and has read a total of one (1) book on greyscale. +5. He seems pretty wrong, but we’re giving points for sheer audacity.
  • Cersei thinking she can destroy Dany’s dragon army with one (1) big crossbow. -15. Harold, they’re dragons.
  • “I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them.” Olenna is the queen of my LIFE. +71 for this one (1) comment.
  • Grey Worm taking a risk and being (literally) naked around someone he loves. +33. He’s cool with rabid dogs, dizzying heights and tumultuous oceans, but clearly this was really scary for him. It’s important and good to be vulnerable!! All the pats on the back for Grey Worm. He really did that.
  • Sam just fully going for it and chopping off all of Jorah’s skin (even though he literally… just read a book that said dragonglass can cure greyscale??). +14. What is this bold motherfucker doing.
  • Jorah letting him. +11.
  • “You’ve been making pies?” “One or two.” Blatant fan service from psycho killer Arya, but I fully loved it. +25.
  • Jon making Sansa temporary Queen in the North. +7.
  • Sansa – queen of my heart and now Queen in the North!!! +17.
  • Jon choking Littlefinger for perving over Sansa. +19. This would just be weird and patriarchal, but Littlefinger is an unholy cunt and Sansa has been horrifically abused by 60 per cent of the men who have ever touched her.
  • Nymeria staring down the woman who once possessed her in a delicious reversal of fortune. +13. Yes, she’s a wolf but she did not consent to being owned by a strangely aggressive child.
  • Euron had a big win. So, regrettably, +10.

​That means this week’s bad bitch is Olenna Tyrell, because who even comes close? This week’s loser is Cersei. But, as always, with the caveat that when Cersei is really losing – she strikes hard. Plus, Qyburn’s comment about the dragon skeletons under King’s Landing, “Curious that King Robert did not have them destroyed”, coupled with his previous penchant for re-animated dead bodies, makes me nervous, and worry that – in light of Cersei’s lack of heir – we’re moving towards a Cersei-Qyburn-White Walkers alliance. So do watch out.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.