BFI Southbank – August 8th
Do you remember when you were playing soccer on that sports field which overlooked the sea and you were feeling pretty down and then the speakers switched on and Patrick Verona sang ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ and the band joined in and he evaded the security and it made you laugh and you appreciated that he’d made a fool of himself and it was pretty much the best thing you ever saw? No? Me neither. Because, amongst a couple of other superfluous reasons, I’m English.
I didn’t go to high-school, I went to senior school and 6th form college. There were no cheerleaders or bleachers or letterman jackets. We didn’t have a prom, playing football was never as divisive as playing American Football and i’m pretty sure no-one was involved in a coven of witchcraftery. My school looked nothing like Kat Stratford’s, my favourite band never played Cheap Trick covers on the roof and our cars never had bench seats in the front.
No wonder, then, that the teen movie and high school life seems so endlessly compelling compared to our drab existences. No wonder when we think of the quintessential teen experience we think of John Hughes, Shakespeare re-workings and the likes of Trip Fontaine sauntering through school corridors. No wonder, after Swimfan, trips to the municipal pool always feel a touch mundane. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That (“Never let it…drop”), the essential Kirsten Dunst trilogy of The Virgin Suicides, Bring It On and Get Over It. Clueless, Easy A, Grease, Carrie, Heathers and, of course, Mean Girls. A world of jocks, cliques, pom-poms, red plastic cups and nerds; a world that was never ours, but that we love all the same.
Charlie Lyne’s teen movie documentary, Beyond Clueless, is the logical conclusion of this love; narrated by The Craft’s Fairuza Balk, it’s a whirlwind journey through over 200 of the genre’s finest. We watch them flash before our eyes, a deluge of “I love that film”, “I need to see that film” and “that film looks terrrrrible…i still want to see it”. It’s hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking, raising fresh perspectives – the theory that the happy-ever-after version of 13 Going On 30’s Jenna Rink is a disappointment compared to her 5th Avenue apartment, high-flying self is hilariously unromantic and probably accurate – and delving beyond the sunshine and witty one-liners into the murky depths of teen reality. Which bites. If it fails to really find a common thread running through the films, fails to find a correlative wisdom, then that only prompts the response that no matter how much these films may be superficially similar, no matter how the ensemble casts seem to resembles one another, the teen experience will always be unique and individual, that there is no such thing as the typical teenager.
It’s a minor concern anyway, and especially tonight as the one band that could not be more suited to this moment, that could not be more informed and passionate about the subject, are onstage playing their score alongside the film: In her Penny For Your Thoughts piece for us, Elizabeth Sankey said “Film soundtracks are a doorway into a more cinematic life, and who doesn’t want that?” Summer Camp seem to have been involved in the Beyond Clueless project for as long as I can remember, and they make this night buzz. Seamlessly seguing with the playback they add a vibrancy and pulsing urgency to proceedings. For the most part the soundtrack is instrumental, decidedly un-Summer Camp, and a huge testament to their versatility. At times they recall the doom and tension of Air’s incredible The Virgin Suicides OST, and like that record it works perfectly without the accompanying film, but here it comes truly alive. Tracks like ‘Enrolment’ and ‘Weak Walls’ thud and thrill as teens screw and fight and drink and puke, find themselves and lose each other in dizzying montage heaven. It adds drama and compounds the emotional resonance. Like the map Janice gives Cady in Mean Girls, Summer Camp’s soundtrack guides you through the film’s first-day nerves, cafeteria politics, locker room run-ins, prom highs, prom lows and, eventually, graduation with assurance and wit. Go see the movie, go buy the soundtrack and, for God’s sake, don’t piss off any telekiness-blessed unpopular kids at the prom.