English / Analysis Of Transformation Of Jane Austen'S &Quot;Emma&Quot; To Amy Heckerling'S &Quot;Clueless&Quot;

Analysis Of Transformation Of Jane Austen'S &Quot;Emma&Quot; To Amy Heckerling'S &Quot;Clueless&Quot;

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Autor:  anton  12 April 2011
Tags:  Analysis,  Transformation,  Austens
Words: 1032   |   Pages: 5
Views: 549

The 1993 hit film ‘Clueless’, written and directed by Amy Heckerling, exemplifies how popular culture re-appropriates Austen’s novel, ‘Emma’ to serve updated agendas.

‘Clueless’ involves a storyline, which closely follows the text of ‘Emma’. However, there are some key points of difference in the transformation that has taken place. This is due to the individual context of the 19th Century prose text and that of a modern appropriated film text. The context can be divided into three focal categories: social, historical and environmental.

Heckerling has employed a variety of different filmic techniques to transform the context of Jane Austen’s novel to the modern context of ‘Clueless’. By analysing the literary techniques found in ‘Emma’, Heckerling is able to specify and adapt these techniques to different film processes in order to portray her perspective and interpretation of the novel.

As a character, Emma embodies her unsettled social environment. While she aggressively asserts her individuality and follows her free will, she is also the most eligible woman in Highbury. She may act like a product of ‘progressive ideology,’ but her social position embeds her in a ‘tradition ideology,’ that assumes marriage for social benefit. While Emma appears to reject the explanations inherent in this position, declaring ‘never to marry’ and eventually only marrying for love, it is both convenient and contrived that Knightely is not only her choice, but her social equal.

Similarly, Cher’s actions belie her appearance. She embodies a sexual stereotype that a modern teenage audience will immediately recognize and relate to.

Both Cher and Emma manipulate the expectations of their audience and do not act in accordance with their specific social environments.

Jane Austen’s novel Emma, written in the 19th Century and set in the township of Highbury, seems far removed from the fast paced life of late 20th Century Beverly Hills. Yet the teen flick ‘Clueless’ reflects many of the values and much of the social stratification found in the 19th Century classic ‘Emma’. While Heckerling’s ‘Clueless’ does not present an exact duplication of Austen’s classic, there are enough similarities in both theme and cultural identification to link both texts.

The film ‘Clueless’ is a post-modern text that constantly blurs the boundaries between truth and perception. The film is built on the plots inherent in the novel Emma. Heckerling creates a pastiche cleverly integrating music, a montage of images and flash backs to create a fast paced and relevant insight into life in downtown Beverly Hills. A long shot of the entrance to this high school is shown focusing on students ‘hanging around’ in their groups. Popular people, losers and unattractive guys are just some of the stereotyped groups Heckerling uses as the main method of transforming the social hierarchy of Emma into a more modern-day equivalent. The shot itself produces a real-life effect that is pleasing to the viewer as it invites them to enter Cher’s world.

It is evident that the values expressed in Emma and Clueless vary greatly, because of the social context of each text. Most of the characters in Emma are fixated with the issues of money, status, displaying talents, elegance and marriage. Austen describes Emma as “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition”. The tone here is descriptive, yet seems exaggerated, almost hyperbolic, when the composer continues with: “seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence…with very little to distress or vex her”. Here, Austen is alluding that for Emma to undergo some sort of transformation there must be conflict in her life for this to occur. She also characterizes Emma as an innocent young girl, which allows the reader to form an early opinion and expectation of the protagonist.

Heckerling demonstrates that the obsession with wealth in Emma has not changed much, but for the slight contrast in the way that the wealth is gained. For example, in Emma for a person to be classed as noble and gallant they were usually those inheriting money, whereas in Clueless if a person has a high paid job then they will acquire status as a result. As demonstrated in both texts, with money and status a person can acquire and elegant or stylistic image. This aspect can be seen in Clueless when Cher self-consciously looks in the mirror and says: “I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl”. Heckerling humours the audience with irony in that after she claims this, she picks out her school clothes using a computer mix-match system. During this scene Heckerling employs a voice over technique which allows the audience to interpret the composer’s perspective. This technique can also be noted in Austen’s novel when she employs the use of ironic third person limited voice which allows an insight into the characters thoughts and feelings.

While the values explored in Clueless are very similar to those in Emma, the context of each text is diverse. The English town of Highbury is very much serene and peaceful, whereas Beverly Hills is a demanding loud and intense location to reside in. By setting the movie in Los Angeles, a place synonymous with excess, Heckerling can exaggerate the themes of Emma and have fun at the expense of her own characters. Authorial commentary by Austen presents her opinion that the “real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.

Heckerling passes her own outlook of Cher’s faults, which are similar to Emma’s, through the introduction of her character as spoilt, vain, self-satisfied and overconfident.

The process of transformation in Clueless begins with the realisation by Cher that she loves Josh (her ex-step brother). In this scene Cher is walking down the centre of the city street and for the first time she is not the central focus of the camera. She appears insignificant in the landscape of the scene and the music playing in the background is the non-diegetic song “All by myself”. It shows Cher alone and emotionally down for the first time in the film.


*Excel- Emma and Clueless, Lindsay Green, Pascal Press, 2003

*Emma- Jane Austen, Bantam Books (classic edition), 1981

*Clueless- Amy Heckerling, Paramount Pictures, 1995

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