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Emma and Clueless

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    In comparing the two texts you have become aware of how the contexts of thetexts have chaped their form and meaning, OR, more interestingly, is acomparison of the values associated with each text. To what extent has thispoint of view been your experience?The process of transformation re-expresses a story told for oneaudience’s time and context, using methods appropriate to another time andcontext. Thus in the transformation of Jane Austen’s classic novel ofmanners Emma, told for a readership of complacent 19th century gentry, intoHeckerling’s post-modern teen-pic Clueless, told for a cinema audience ofaverage teens, Austen’s original directives mutate as the context’s shiftand additional impulses emerge. Through director Amy Heckerling’smanipulation of cinematic techniques, the setting and timeframe have beenchanged as well as the social milieu, however, similarities still existalongside the cultural and historical discrepancies.

    Both Austen and Heckerling write with an immense sense of fun aboutthe social circle they moved in and understood, both composers adopting thesame fondly indulgent but mildly critical attitude towards the charactersand societies they depict. The shift in the composer’s context however,reveals a change not only in time and setting but also in the society, andthe values the composer depicts.

    The transformation of Emma’s 19th century rural English village, into theheart of 20th century America’s consumerist culture, shows the extent ofHeckerling’s modification of cultural and historical contexts in thetransformation process. Both texts however, depict an enclosed microcosm ofsociety, the narrowness of the social circle making correct behaviourimperative. In Emma’s world, Highbury is a rigidly structured society inwhich manner’s are of the upmost importance, and knowledge of family andbackground is vital. In this 19th century world, values are based onwelath, property, birth and marriage. Highbury is a small village whereeveryone knows eachother by name and the strict social hierarchy is evident-a living situation not unlike that experienced by Austen herself, albeitfar removed from those experienced by comtemporary readers. Usingdescriptive authorial commentary, AUsten carefull establishes her settingand characters- a task achieved by Heckerling in seconds. However, whereAusten emphasises issues on the strictures and conventions of 19th centuryEngland, Clueless invokes a contemporary culture defined by materialism andconsumerism.

    With the obvious advantage of a visual medium, in the opening shotsof Clueless the viewer is absorbed into a whirlwind of movement, garishlybright colours, and music as a montage of laughing, flriting, happy, ‘Kidsin America’, and images of the heroine, Cher, laden with shopping bagsvisually establish the social milieu that is to be explored in the film.

    Through the use of fast motion camera shots, Heckerlings setting isextablished in seconds. While Emma, in gentile comfort, goes on picnics toeat strawberries and holds card parties for old ladies, and is required toconsider the comfort and enjoyment of others rather than her own; Cher inlollypop colours, parties with friends her own age, and is selfish in herpleasures. Her reactions reinforced by an energetic and wittily relevansoundtrack e.g ‘Kids in America’ in the opening sequence as they introduceCher and her friends, and “I wanna be a supermodel’ as Cher and Dionne’make-over’ Tai. In Cher’s world, Beverly Hills, USA, in the mid 1990’s,values revolve around the materialistic trappings of money, including fastcars, luxurious homes, beauty and image- and status is equated with assets.

    As Cher picks out her uniform for the day from her computerised wardrobe,the responder is informed via voice over- a technique used extensively byHeckerling to show Cher’s dillusional views and naivety- that, ‘I actuallyhave a way normal life for a teenage girl’. Cher’s vast wardrobe and herobsession with fashion and shopping reinforcing the superficialty of hersocial context. Language is also used to show the change in contexts. WhileAusten’s characters speak formally and politley; ‘But do not imagine that Iwish to influence you,’ Cher and co. speak in an exaggerated form ofcontemporary slang; ‘Whatever! Di, I’m outtie…’.

    Both Emma and Cher subscribe to their social norms, and both areelitists in their own social circles. Both hold themselves in high esteemand look down on those who do not meet the correct criteria. But whilstEmma is more concerned with social rank, Cher is concerned with fashion andmaterialism- another indicator of the difference in contexts. Just as Emmais extremely class conscious, and does not want to be classed with thelikes of the ‘Mrs Elton’s, Mr’s Perry’s…’, within the social confines ofher Beverly Hills highschool, so too is Cher, rejecting Tai’s crush Travisbecause he is a ‘loadie’ who wears baggy pants. Cher then informing Taithat the only ‘acceptable ones’ (like Elton) are the popular and rich boys.

    The importance of status and image is also shown by Heckerling in Dionne’sreaction to Cher’s suggestion that they talk to Tai, the daggy new girl;’our stock will plummet’. The similarities between the two texts highlightsthat while contexts and values may be modified, social hierarchies stillexist as the basis for classifying people.Contexts may change, but theuniversal aspects of humanity do not.

    The most important ideas and concerns in Austen’s Emma centre onEmma’s moral development. This transformation of the heroine with the’disposition to think a little to well of herself’ is preserved inClueless- the protangonists paying for their delusive self-confidence byway of painful humiliation. However, contrary to Emma’s ‘Box Hill’incident, where she is deeply shaken by Mr Knightley’s. ‘ How could you beso unfeeling to Miss Bates?’, and dedicates herself to better her attitude,Cher’s slow and painful transormation in the 20th century seems somewhatshallow in contrast. Even amidst her final self-examination, she becomesdistracted by a dress in a shop sindow, ‘ Ooh, I wonder if they have thatin my size?’. Thus much of the humor in the film derives from Cher’s totallack of perception and her ignorance of anything other than fashion.

    Similarly, in Emma, Austen satirises and exploits to the full themisunderstanding and foibles of her characters, especially those of Emma inorder to show her delusional views. An example of this is the way in whichEmma misconstrues Mr Elton’s gallantry,’ I am very much astonished, MrElton- this to me! You forget yourself- you take me for my friend!’ Hencecapturing the contradiction between reality and Emma’s self-deceptiveviews.

    The new cultural values and attitudes of a 20th century world havealso shaped each text’s individual meaning, Heckerling updating theoutdated values and attitudes of Austen’s time to suit her modern audiencethrough the inclusion of contemporary issues such as sexuality, multi-culturalism and virginity. While in Emma’ marriage is emphasised as a meansfor providing econmic security and status for women, in Heckerling’s textit becomes even less of an important issue as it is instead replaced bymodern society’s pre-occupation with sex- Just as Emma defies the socialnorms of her time by remaining un-married, Cher shows defiance againsttoday’s sex obsessed society by remaining a virgin. Similarly, theinclusion of ‘disco-dancing, Barbara Streisand singing’ Christian’shomosexuality, and the portayal of Cher’s best friend as an African-American woman highlight’s Heckerling’s modification of society’s valuesand attitudes to today’s more accepting views towards sexuality andmulticulturalism.

    As the medium changes from novel to film, the techniques employed bythe composer in order to tell their story must also change. Both Austen andHeckerling present most events from the protagonist’s perspective, placingthe responder in a position to empathise with the heroine. Where Austenachieves this through the use of third person omniscent intrusion [ example]. The shift in authorial point of view avoids sentimentality and allowsfor both humor and irony. Heckerling meanwhile, relies upon techniques suchas Cher’s use of the hand-held camera to allow the audience to see eventsthrough Cher’s eyes.

    While Austen uses irony to satirise Emma mostly through her speeches,in Clueless Heckerling exaggerates the experiences of her characters,pressing reality into the relam of fantasy e.g the fountain lighting up inthe background when Cher discovers she is in love, and the framed shotplacing Cher and Josh’s first kiss against the heart shape of thestaircase. Camera angles are also used to poke fun at Cher e.g in the scenewhen Cher is robbed, Heckerling uses a high angle shot of Cher and createsa dark and nasty atmosphere in order to shoe Cher’s hoplessness. Cher seemsmore startled by the loss of her mobile than having a gun pointed in herface, emphasising her foolishness and naivety. Through these techniques,Heckerling exemplifies the ridiculousness of Cher’s world.

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