The Big Interview: Charlie Lyne, Beyond Clueless

Beyond Clueless (2014)

We speak to the director of new teen movie documentary, Beyond Clueless, about his school years, first-time filmmaking, and why EuroTrip is the greatest teen movie of all time…

A dreamlike documentary about teen movies, Guardian film critic Charlie Lyne’s directorial debut is a homage to growing pains and growing up: a pithy tour through cliques, conformity, sexual awakening, repression, anarchy and, eventually, moving on.

Narrated by cult teen star Fairuza Balk (The Craft (1996), Almost Famous (2002)), with original soundtrack by pop duo Summercamp and title sequences from illustrator Hattie Stewart (based on her teen diaries), the result is a beautifully edited archive of the genre, guaranteed to make you feel 15 again.

“[At school] I was certainly obsessive about a lot of things (teen movies included) and quite shy”

First of all, congratulations on the new documentary, it’s fantastic. I have to ask: were you a nerd at school?

I’d say I was right on the edge. I was certainly obsessive about a lot of things (teen movies included) and quite shy, but I was also into a lot of the same stuff as the — for want of a better word — cool kids were. So I guess I was like the smart guy in prison who gets a pass because he’s good at accountancy.

Why did you decide to make your first film on the subject of the teen movie (did it have anything to do with Not Another Teen Movie, thanked in the credits)?
In a roundabout way, yes! A couple of years ago I helped organise a teen movie film festival, including a screening of Not Another Teen Movie (2001) (which I still think is an absolute masterpiece) and that was what set me down the path of re-watching all the teen movies I loved as an adolescent.

The woozy, hallucinatory tone of the film really reproduces that strange feeling of teenage dreams, expectations and new experiences. How did you achieve the effect?
Thank you, that means a lot! It was always my intention to make a film that would feel as much like a teen movie in its own right as a documentary, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Summer Camp’s incredible score, which really transports me back to that time and place in an instant.

On that sublime soundtrack: it acts very well as a guide, almost like a Greek chorus. Why did you decide to commission an original work, as opposed to using existing music, and how did you work together as collaborators?

Thank you, and I agree with you! I think music is arguably the most important aspect of any teen movie — it’s what really anchors the film to its setting, its tone and its characters. So in placing Beyond Clueless slap bang in the middle of this vast teen movie universe, I really wanted a soundtrack that could add a sense of consistency to the film. Summer Camp were involved from the word go, and their work over the course of making the film did as much to shape the final product as anything else did.

Was there a pressure in swapping roles from critic to director? And what were the logistics of taking the film from concept to reality (for example, sifting through 500 hours of film)?

It certainly took a while for me to get the balance right. I would be watching hundreds upon hundreds of teen movies by night and then waking up in the morning to write a review of Godzilla, or whatever was coming out at the time, and my points of reference were all out of joint — I would be making casual allusions to Cruel Intentions 2 (2000) as though that’s a cultural touchstone that everybody is familiar with.

“The ’90s teen movie era felt like the obvious way to go, partly because I grew up in it, but also because it was a time when teen movies really broadened out”

When watching the film, one can’t help but think of John Hughes, King of the Teen Movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), The Breakfast Club (1985)). Was it an obvious decision to stick to the cinema of your childhood (1992 onwards) and omit the ’80s golden years?

I was very keen that the film be set in a specific time period, because I didn’t want it to feel too historical and cold — I wanted to really immerse the viewer in that world — and the ’90s teen movie era felt like the obvious way to go, partly because I grew up in it, but also because it was a time when teen movies really broadened out, becoming a wildly eclectic genre as opposed to one defined by a few key players. So it just like much more fertile territory to explore.

What, in your opinion, is the greatest teen movie of all time, and why?

I think it’s more a question of personal taste, because the best thing a teen movie can do is find a small number of intense, loyal fans and mean the world to them, if nobody else. For me, that film was always EuroTrip (2004), and it appears frequently in Beyond Clueless as a result. Hopefully I can help it find a few more devotees like me.

Laura Robertson

Beyond Clueless hits cinemas nationwide from Friday 23 January 2015 — see site for all participating venues and special events near you

See preview screenings with Q&As at Electric, Birmingham, Saturday 17 January 9.45pm; Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds, Sunday 18 January 3.40pm; FACT, Liverpool, Monday 19th January 8.30pm; Tyneside, Newcastle, Tuesday 20 January 5.50pm; Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen, Wednesday 21 January 6.30pm; Cameo, Edinburgh, 22 January 10.30pm; and The Dancehouse, Manchester, 24 January 8pm

More from Charlie Lyne on The Guardian, on his Ultra Culture blog and on Twitter: @charlielyne

Receive a free download of Summercamp’s Beyond Clueless soundtrack from Moshi Moshi Records when you purchase the limited edition 12″ vinyl

Posted on 16/01/2015 by thedoublenegative