Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Comparison of Emma & Clueless

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Emma & Clueless - Comparative Study

Welcome ladies and gentlemen. As you all know we have today been able to successfully resurrect the author Jane Austen of the novel Emma. It is her novel that I adapted and we transformed to create Clueless. She has both viewed and critiqued the film and will now speak to us about her views on our representation.

Good morning, Amy Heckerling and production team,

My deepest gratitude to you for providing me with the opportunity to experience the late twentieth century, and especially the transformation of my own novel Emma.

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I must admit that after viewing the film Clueless I was deeply shocked. The setting and context of my story of one woman’s journey of self-awareness and development, has changed immensely over time. The result of this can be seen in your chosen method of representation. This new medium, film, has caused my entire story to be compacted into a ninety-three minute experience and although it provides an immediate visual impact, the techniques do not allow a detailed development of character or events. The plot has been modernised and altered in several ways, yet the main storyline remains, revealing that the concerns of human nature transcend context. The characters and their development especially Emma/Cher, form a parallel, although I do not believe the characters in Clueless evoke the same degree of empathy as those in Emma. Most importantly, through transformation it becomes obvious that certain themes, the importance of self-awareness, social and moral responsibility, perception and deception, and marriage and relationships, are universal.

I cannot believe the changes that the world has experienced since I was alive. The differences in context between my novel and Clueless are what form the basis of transformation and this is why, upon first viewing, Emma is barely recognisable within the film. The setting of Beverly Hills, USA, in the late twentieth century, however, is an appropriate choice. Both societies, I now realise, are based on a hierarchical social structure, which is fundamental to the story of Emma. Social status seems to be determined specifically by one’s money, material possessions and sense of style today, rather than birth and property, yet I am surprised to see that the judgment of a human being according to their general image, rather than personal qualities has survived. Within Clueless the same purpose is served, in that both Emma and Cher are aware of their superior positions and have faith in their abilities to elevate a social inferior.

Clueless is set within Bronson Alcott High School and, similarly to Highbury in my novel, it sets the context for the characters’ microcosmic ‘world’, within which Cher is extremely conscious of what and who are socially acceptable. I am pleased to find that today social mobility is ultimately less rigid than in my time and, despite the surviving injustice, people such as Travis are rejected due to their actions rather than heredity.

When writing Emma, a novel largely based on relationships, I was constantly aware of the accepted role of women within society. In contrast, the women in Clueless seem to have equal independence and opportunities to men and aren’t necessarily dependent on them through marriage or parentage, for economic security or status. Indeed marriage as an institution has today lost its importance and social morals have disintegrated deplorably, with an acceptance of divorce and outer-marriage sexual relationships. Such ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ relationships provide the suitable parallel for the purposes of the adaption and the consequences of the protagonist’s matchmaking are thus, less permanent and significant.

The world of Clueless is driven by consumerism and places open emphasis on image and the individual. Amazingly, your world seems to lack essential truths and agreed values. Whatever has happened to moral obligations, duty, honesty, consideration and social responsibility I do not know! It seems to me the ethics of this Post-modernism are almost negotiable and that you have lost much of my era’s rationality. This setting appears sensational and superficial and it is obvious that the changes made through transformation of Emma into Clueless are determined by the vastly different social, cultural and historical contexts.

When creating a text, one must be forever conscious of who their audience is and make decisions accordingly. While I wrote Emma for the limited few that had access to novels, I understand that, today, films are a primary source of entertainment for a mass audience. Both comedies, an immediate visual impact is created by the new medium and my gentle style of writing was appropriate to the leisurely lifestyle I wrote about. My criticism of the film technique is its lack of detailed character and situational development. Originally, I used descriptive writing ‘she felt all the honest pride and complacency (at) its ample gardens stretching down to meadows washed by a stream’ and customised dialogue, such as Miss Bates’ longwinded gossipy style in contrast with Mr Knightley’s formal, elegantly balanced sentences. Authorial intrusion and satire ‘She would notice her; improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would inform her opinions and her manners’(chp) allowed the creation of realistic characters and clear understanding of ironic commentary and moral discussion.

Though the fact that the viewer does not have to imagine characters or situations does not appeal to me, I cannot completely discredit the features of film. Appropriate to today’s busy lifestyle, the teenage romantic comedy is able to capture the essence of my story and its universal themes in an immediate way, as many of you no longer have the time or inclination to read and enjoy the developments of a long novel. Cinematic techniques allow an appropriate representation and reflection of the context and the director, Amy Heckerling has used a mixture of styles. I admire her depiction of Popular Culture through fast camera movements, loud music and bright colours and the subsequent satirisation of it by repeated visual and oral references to consumerism, image and labels (eg ‘famous singers of the past that now do infomercials’ and Tai singing the ‘mentos’ jingle). She is able to create mood and parallel the emotional states of characters through the use of modern music ‘All by Myself’, and extensive character description is replaced by the use of camera angles, costuming and make-up. The dialogue, I think, is an adaptation of my ironic tone ‘routine liposuction’, and has captured the sense of my own language, such as in the similarly inarticulate way Josh declares his love for Cher. However I found much of it difficult to understand (what exactly does Cher mean by ‘cruising the crimson tide?) and, though a modern audience may relate to the colloquialisms, I wonder how those in the future will comprehend it.

The new style of representation does affect the way the story is told, but aspects such as the opening sequence, show that the aims of both texts are similar. At the beginning of Emma, I quickly described Emma’s character, lifestyle and setting through satirical third-person narrative. It could be said that Heckerling’s film techniques have surpassed my own abilities. She shows a montage of fast-paced clips that feature the enthusiastic and energetic lifestyle of the heroine and her friends, supplemented by the upbeat song ‘Kids in America’. Upon viewing, I was immediately aware of the style and atmosphere, and began to understand the era in which the story is set. The use of voice-over allows the viewer an alignment with Cher and, accompanied with the sensational luxuries of her lifestyle, comments such as ‘I actually have a way normal life for a teenager’ create irony and the social satire I intended in the original composition.

Aside from the differing form of representation, the modern context obviously required Clueless to have adaptations and alterations in terms of plotline. I was relieved to find that it remains true in providing a series of chronological events that mark stages in Cher’s development and acquisition of self-awareness. This is culminated, in both texts, by the realisation of respective loves.

The many successful character and incident counterparts include the bookending of marriages ‘matched’ by Cher/Emma; the discouraged relationship between Tai/Harriet and Travis/Robert Martin; the misunderstanding over a photograph/painting of Tai/Harriet; Elton/Mr Elton’s advances in a car rather than carriage; Tai/Harriet’s attack by a gang of bullies/gypsies; the disposal of Elton memorabilia by Tai/Harriet; the noble character of Josh/Mr Knightley, their familial relation and role in the psychological growth of the heroine.

Of course, when I learnt you had transformed Emma I expected changes, however the complete omission of the sub-plot and Jane Fairfax, a vital character, I found completely inappropriate. I realise that in being homosexual, the Frank Churchill counterpart, Christian, also represents a socially stigmatised group but this crude parallel is simply a plot convenience that prevents the complications of the Emma-Frank-Jane relationships. Emma’s changing attitude to characters such as Jane and the Bates are significant to the story and it was overly simplistic to delete them.

I now come specifically to the transformation of characters. The novel is primarily about the heroine Emma, who I expected no-one but myself to like, and her journey of maturation. Likewise, Clueless follows a period of improvement in the life of Cher. We see her in the beginning as mistakenly proud and confident, insensitive and snobbish. Visual images of technology, for example the computerised wardrobe establish her wealth, her pre-occupation of dress (both her own and other people’s) shows her to be shallow, and the unselfconscious narration in voice-over reveals her to be rather arrogant ‘we both know what its like to have people be jealous of us’. These characteristics make her appear more realistic and, as with Emma, her kind-heart and good nature help to redeem her in the eyes of the viewer. A series of misunderstandings, misjudgments and disasters cause her to confront her own failings and reassess her values. Significantly, her failures in making-over and matching Tai/Harriet lead to a ‘make-over of her soul’ and the discovery of love. While the different context of the film means that Cher is a modernised character more superficial, enjoying more open relationships between men and women, and having more freedom, there is no doubt that the film aptly reflects the improvement of the heroine to a better, increasingly likeable character.

Might I say, that it is completely to the credit of actress Alicia Silverstone that Cher does not come across as ‘just a ditz with a credit card’. The concept of teenager is very modern, unheard of in my time, and the modern context sees Emma transformed into a ‘superficial space-cadet’. Her life revolves around fashion, image and boys, and as Dionne remarks, ‘Cher’s main thrill in life is a makeover’. In reality her concerns are rather trivial, for example she is worried about her designer dress after being robbed. Although Emma also spent most of her time socialising or meddling in other people’s lives, the difference is that I had a 400 page book in which to develop her character. The characters in Emma are complex and worthy of reader empathy. One finds themselves responding emotionally as we experience their inner struggles, especially the developments within Emma’s mind. A ninety-minute film cannot provide adequate character layers and doesn’t have the time to develop a deep person, thus, they are flatter and more stereotypical. The viewer may laugh at and with the characters, realising the values they embody such as the moral and social responsibility of Josh, but empathy is less likely to be evoked and we share the journey as spectators.

Until now, I have critiqued the film Clueless by focusing on the affects of different form, due to new context, on the presentation of the story and characters. What I became acutely aware of, though, was that both texts explore similar themes. The main thread of the texts is the study of human relationships and the exploration of similar preoccupations, just in a different way, reveals that human nature does not change.

The theme of marriage and relationships is crucial to the story. Both Emma and Cher attempt to match others, under the misguided assumption that they know what is best for them. The realisation of the problems they created in interfering in others’ lives is pivotal to their own emotional development. Because marital unions are not necessarily Cher’s objective and marriage is not ultimately final in the world of Clueless, her meddling, perhaps, does not carry as heavy consequences. Linked to the notion of marriage is the role of women within society. At first glance it appears that in twentieth-century Los Angeles women have equality to men, and indeed they do have personal freedom and a certain degree of independence socially and economically. However Cher still seeks to impress men, such as by baking, and plays games to attract them like dropping her pen to get Christian’s attention. This is similar to Emma using Isabella’s baby to make her look more attractive to Mr Knightley. Cher needs Josh to rescue her after the Valley Heights party and to defend her against her father’s lawyer. Just as Emma’s reward for self-knowledge was the realisation that she must marry Mr Knightley, ‘She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house’, Cher and Josh become lovers at the end of the film. Marriage bookends the texts, Mr Weston and Miss Taylor’s in my novel and Miss Geist and Mr Hall’s in the film � the hopes and desires of women, and their reliance on men has not changed.

In my short time here I have seen that western society prides itself on freedom and equal rights, but snobbery and class-consciousness still pervade in places like Bronson Alcott High. In Emma, the heroine expresses this in her dismissal of Mr Robert Martin of ‘the yeoman class’. Similarly, Cher introduces the drug-smoking, skateboarders as those who ‘No respectable girl actually dates’. Elton is appalled that Cher would think he could date such a social inferior as Tai, saying ‘Do you know who my father is?’ Ironically Cher replies with ‘Ugh, you are such a snob!’. The characters in Clueless, just like in Highbury, judge other people superficially, such as by money and image, rather than by personal integrity. Cher’s growing social awareness is highlighted by first-time actions, like donating to charity, and as she becomes more willing to mix with those she previously saw as socially unacceptable, she loses some of her superficiality. This is affectively symbolised by her more casual and modest wardrobe. My own novel used Mr Knightley to reflect my personal views by portraying him as truly noble, due to his awareness of social and moral responsibility. In parallel, Cher becomes a better person as she attempts to embody the accepting and perceptive qualities of Josh. She is finally rewarded by being united with him, therefore beginning to understand his dismissal of the importance of popularity.

Another important, and universal, theme is that of perception and deception. It is this idea that reminds us that Emma/Cher are not necessarily bad people, in the beginning they are simply morally blind. The protagonist in both texts misreads signs � Mr Elton/Elton’s interest in her not Harriet/Tai, ‘I am very much surprised’ says Emma in the carriage. She is misguided in her assumption that she knows what is best for Harriet/Tai and her own arrogance and lack of perception means that she cannot detect the deception of others. In Emma, Frank’s secret engagement and false attachment to her goes largely unnoticed. The modern adaptation in Clueless is that Cher does not realise that Christian is homosexual. As I have previously mentioned, Mr Knightley/Josh sees value in the quality of the person as well as in their status. The fact that Mr Knightley already has moral enlightenment is shown in that he is ‘one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them’(chp1) and correctly judges Frank Churchill in taking ‘an early dislike’ to him. Josh also makes no hesitation in reprimanding Cher for insulting their maid Lucy. As the heroine makes mistakes she realises that she must reflect on and evaluate her own actions. The film Clueless successfully communicates, through appropriation that, with clarity of vision, comes morality.

The perception that the protagonist gains is part of her journey of personal growth, the importance of which is the most significant theme within both texts. Initially she has a great desire to improve others, Emma saying of Harriet that ‘she would inform her opinions and manners’; Cher saying of Tai that ‘Her life will be better because of me’. Throughout both texts, however, we see that they are ignorant of others and themselves and eventually this leads to self-improvement. I like the way Heckerling satirised and revealed Cher’s ignorance by having her mis-quote Shakespeare and then attribute the lines to a modern study guide. This is an appropriation of the way I satirised Emma. For example, she criticises Mrs Elton for many of her own faults ‘the quarter of an hour convinced her that Mrs Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance.’ Emma learns through her own faults that her judgment is not always correct, and realises she ‘was a fool’; Cher admits she has been ‘totally clueless’. As she develops, gaining knowledge, awareness and maturity, she comes to value others for their personal qualities, not just their appearances. The fact that her changes make her a better person and more likeable character shows that, just as in nineteenth century England, self-awareness is an essential trait in human nature.

Once again I would like to thank you all for allowing me to return and critique the film Clueless, by Amy Heckerling. As a transformation of my own novel Emma, it similarly explores a young woman’s journey of self-awareness and maturity, and her discovery of love in the process. Method of representation from book to film; details of the story; language, interests and occupations of characters; have been modified to suit the very different social and historical context of twentieth-century Beverly Hills. Some features of this adaptation are not particularly appealing to me but essentially the ideas of the original text have been retained. The film shows that the concerns of human nature transcend context; human relationships, social and moral responsibility, perception and deception, and the importance of self-development are universal themes.

Jane Austen

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