Friday, March 25, 2016

Nonfiction | Buggin', Wiggin', and Keepin' it Real

Back when we lived in New York, I hated Spring. HATED it! March was always the absolute WORST. As other, more southern parts of the country were quickly thawing, New York felt stuck in some never-ending purgatory of 50-degrees and a looming potential for one last snow storm.

As the weather started to warm up in April, though, I always got a great amount of joy from walking to my local Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and browsing the shelves for my next reads. It hearkened back to my high school days at the library, when I'd read whatever looked enticing (so yes, a lot of judging by the cover!). It's an entirely different approach to reading than selecting titles from my "to-read" queue to check them off the list; instead of planned, it's an opportunity to embrace the unexpected—and perhaps stumble upon a fortuitous discovery.

The temperatures have already begun to climb here in Nashville, inspiring these Springtime visits to my new neighborhood library. It was under this influence that I found on the "new" shelf Jen Chaney's As If: The Oral History of Clueless as Told By Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew and brought it home (and chose it as the "microhistory" for my never-ending Read Harder Challenge!).

Clueless is one of those rare, few movies that occupies a spot in both my AND Colin's top 10 list. We're always in the mood to watch it, and its quotes are a frequent part of our lexicon. Not only is it a witty, creative, self-aware teen film, it was also totally monumental in bringing back the "teen movie" to us, the kids of the 90s. Eighties kids had John Hughes to define their era; and though I was a tad young when Clueless was released in 1996 (a mere preteen at 11, to be exact), one can't deny its influence in ushering in my generation's teen movie glory days. Clueless paved the way for a resurgence in teen movies that brought dozens, from 1998's Can't Hardly Wait all the way to 2004's Mean Girls. (Any issue of the now-defunct Teen People Magazine was substantiated proof of the importance and infiltration of teen movies at the turn of the millennium.)

Chaney's history of Clueless is not your typical author-narrated history. Instead, she compiles soundbites from hundreds of interviews with Clueless's pertinent players to tell the story through the eyes of the people that experienced it firsthand. Not only do we hear from the obvious sources (writers, directors, actors), Chaney includes anecdotes from crew members, studio employees, extras, musicians, critics, professors—anyone who could share a small piece of the Clueless story.

It would be easy for this book to simply be a helter-skelter work of chaos—an onslaught of stories that serve only as reminiscence. Chaney succeeds, though, in establishing a structure, and thus significance, to this history by organizing it into chronological, themed chapters and sections. "When Emma Met Cher: Clueless and the Spirit of Jane Austen" discusses the inspiration behind the story, especially its literary roots. "The Language of Clueless" investigates the research behind its unique dialogue—much of the reason for its lasting status as an era-defining piece of pop culture. Other chapters cover the search for a cast, location scouting, wardrobe curation, music compilation, premier and press, critical response, merchandising, and ultimately, most significantly, the magnificent impact of Clueless—on its cast, its filmmakers, and on the audience that flocked to theaters to see it.

As If! is an entertaining read for fans of Clueless, but it's also a well-curated reflection on a piece of pop culture that had a significant impact on the world in which my Oregon Trail Generation grew up and consumed culture.

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