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Emma and Clueless

In comparing the two texts you have become aware of how the contexts of the texts have chaped their form and meaning, OR, more interestingly, is a comparison of the values associated with each text. To what extent has this point of view been your experience? The process of transformation re-expresses a story told for one audience’s time and context, using methods appropriate to another time and context.

Thus in the transformation of Jane Austen’s classic novel of manners Emma, told for a readership of complacent 19th century gentry, into Heckerling’s post-modern teen-pic Clueless, told for a cinema audience of verage teens, Austen’s original directives mutate as the context’s shift and additional impulses emerge. Through director Amy Heckerling’s manipulation of cinematic techniques, the setting and timeframe have been changed as well as the social milieu, however, similarities still exist alongside the cultural and historical discrepancies.

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

The transformation of Emma’s 19th century rural English village, into the heart of 20th century America’s consumerist culture, shows the extent of Heckerling’s modification of cultural and historical contexts in the transformation process. Both texts however, depict an enclosed microcosm of society, the narrowness of the social circle making correct behaviour imperative. In Emma’s world, Highbury is a rigidly structured society in which manner’s are of the upmost importance, and knowledge of family and ackground is vital.

In this 19th century world, values are based on welath, property, birth and marriage. Highbury is a small village where everyone knows eachother by name and the strict social hierarchy is evident- a living situation not unlike that experienced by Austen herself, albeit far removed from those experienced by comtemporary readers. Using descriptive authorial commentary, AUsten carefull establishes her setting and characters- a task achieved by Heckerling in seconds. However, where Austen emphasises issues on the strictures and conventions of 19th century

England, Clueless invokes a contemporary culture defined by materialism and consumerism. With the obvious advantage of a visual medium, in the opening shots of Clueless the viewer is absorbed into a whirlwind of movement, garishly bright colours, and music as a montage of laughing, flriting, happy, ‘Kids in America’, and images of the heroine, Cher, laden with shopping bags visually establish the social milieu that is to be explored in the film. Through the use of fast motion camera shots, Heckerlings setting is extablished in seconds.

While Emma, in gentile comfort, goes on picnics to at strawberries and holds card parties for old ladies, and is required to consider the comfort and enjoyment of others rather than her own; Cher in lollypop colours, parties with friends her own age, and is selfish in her pleasures. Her reactions reinforced by an energetic and wittily relevan soundtrack e. g ‘Kids in America’ in the opening sequence as they introduce Cher 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 fast ars, 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 by Heckerling to show Cher’s dillusional views and naivety- that, ‘I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl’. Cher’s vast wardrobe and her obsession with fashion and shopping reinforcing the superficialty of her social context.

Language is also used to show the change in contexts. While Austen’s characters speak formally and politley; ‘But do not imagine that I ish to influence you,’ Cher and co. speak in an exaggerated form of contemporary slang; ‘Whatever! Di, I’m outtie… ‘. Both Emma and Cher subscribe to their social norms, and both are elitists in their own social circles. Both hold themselves in high esteem and look down on those who do not meet the correct criteria. But whilst Emma is more concerned with social rank, Cher is concerned with fashion and materialism- another indicator of the difference in contexts.

Just as Emma is extremely class conscious, and does not want to be classed with the likes of the ‘Mrs Elton’s, Mr’s Perry’s… , within the social confines of her Beverly Hills highschool, so too is Cher, rejecting Tai’s crush Travis because he is a ‘loadie’ who wears baggy pants. Cher then informing Tai that 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’s reaction to Cher’s suggestion that they talk to Tai, the daggy new girl; ‘our stock will plummet’.

The similarities between the two texts highlights that while contexts and values may be modified, social hierarchies still exist as the basis for classifying people. Contexts may change, but the niversal aspects of humanity do not. The most important ideas and concerns in Austen’s Emma centre on Emma’s moral development. This transformation of the heroine with the ‘disposition to think a little to well of herself’ is preserved in Clueless- the protangonists paying for their delusive self-confidence by way of painful humiliation.

However, contrary to Emma’s ‘Box Hill’ incident, where she is deeply shaken by Mr Knightley’s. How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? ‘, and dedicates herself to better her attitude, Cher’s slow and painful transormation in the 20th century seems somewhat hallow in contrast. Even amidst her final self-examination, she becomes distracted by a dress in a shop sindow, ‘ Ooh, I wonder if they have that in my size? ‘. Thus much of the humor in the film derives from Cher’s total lack of perception and her ignorance of anything other than fashion. Similarly, in Emma, Austen satirises and exploits to the full the misunderstanding and foibles of her characters, especially those of Emma in order to show her delusional views.

An example of this is the way in which Emma misconstrues Mr Elton’s gallantry,’ I am very much astonished, Mr Elton- this to me! You forget yourself- you take me for my friend! ‘ Hence capturing the contradiction between reality and Emma’s self-deceptive views. The new cultural values and attitudes of a 20th century world have also shaped each text’s individual meaning, Heckerling updating the outdated values and attitudes of Austen’s time to suit her modern audience through the inclusion of contemporary issues such as sexuality, multi- culturalism and virginity.

While in Emma’ marriage is emphasised as a means for providing econmic security and status for women, in Heckerling’s text it becomes even less of an important issue as it is instead replaced by odern society’s pre-occupation with sex- Just as Emma defies the social norms of her time by remaining un-married, Cher shows defiance against today’s sex obsessed society by remaining a virgin.

Similarly, the inclusion of ‘disco-dancing, Barbara Streisand singing’ Christian’s homosexuality, and the portayal of Cher’s best friend as an African- American woman highlight’s Heckerling’s modification of society’s values and attitudes to today’s more accepting views towards sexuality and multiculturalism. As the medium changes from novel to film, the techniques employed by the composer in order to tell their story must also change. Both Austen and Heckerling present most events from the protagonist’s perspective, placing the responder in a position to empathise with the heroine.

Where Austen achieves this through the use of third person omniscent intrusion [ example ]. The shift in authorial point of view avoids sentimentality and allows for both humor and irony. Heckerling meanwhile, relies upon techniques such as Cher’s use of the hand-held camera to allow the audience to see events through Cher’s eyes. While Austen uses irony to satirise Emma mostly through her speeches, in Clueless Heckerling exaggerates the experiences of her characters, ressing reality into the relam of fantasy e. the fountain lighting up in the background when Cher discovers she is in love, and the framed shot placing Cher and Josh’s first kiss against the heart shape of the staircase.

Camera angles are also used to poke fun at Cher e. g in the scene when Cher is robbed, Heckerling uses a high angle shot of Cher and creates a dark and nasty atmosphere in order to shoe Cher’s hoplessness. Cher seems more startled by the loss of her mobile than having a gun pointed in her face, emphasising her foolishness and naivety. Through these techniques, Heckerling exemplifies the ridiculousness of Cher’s world.

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