Clueless a Transformation of Emma

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How does the composer of Clueless use film techniques to transform the social, historical and environmental context of Jane Austen’s Emma to the modern context of Clueless?

Amy Heckerling’s Clueless involves a storyline, which closely follows the text of Jane Austen’s novel 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 nineteenth century prose text and that of the modern appropriated film text. The context can be divided into three focal categories, the social, historical and environmental context. In order to be able to address the question, these three groupings must be identified accordingly. Social context refers to the life and relation of human beings in a community, how people interact with each other and the hierarchy/social circles. Historical context concerns the impact of a particular time period and what is expected of gender roles, sexuality, and etiquette. Finally, environmental context relates to setting, geographical location and surroundings. Camera shots, camera angles, camera movements, lighting procedures, the soundtrack, music, editing methods, narrative devices (voice overs), filmmaking approaches, characterisation, and allusions/references (language) are but some filmic techniques to mention which Heckerling employs to transform the social, historical and environmental context of Jane Austen’s Emma to the modern context of Clueless. By analysing the literary techniques found in Emma such as narration/point of view (mostly third person/omniscient), writing style, syntax, diction, punctuation, irony, humour, authorial commentary, and dialogue Heckerling is able to specify the above mentioned film processes in order to get her perspective/interpretation of the novel across.

Emma provides a social context typical of an English community town in the early 19th century. The social hierarchy of Highbury is very much the guideline for the townspeople on how they should present themselves in the public eye, how they must interact with each other, and who holds what status and superiority over others. Austen describes the social setting of Emma, through the heroine’s point of view in the lines “Highbury, the large and populous village almost amounting to a town, to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn and shrubberies and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouses were first in consequence there. All looked up to them” (Page 9). Here Austen is giving an insight into the ‘world’ of Emma, while giving the reader a sense of her status and how significant it is in her society. The diction used, especially in appointing the word “consequence” highlights how much Emma is preoccupied with people’s standing in society and how this determines their overall character. Heckerling is aware of the social hierarchy apparent in Emma: the landed gentry, the merchant class, the working class, and lastly at the bottom of the social scale the servants/serfs/labourers. When appropriating Austen’s novel to a modern-day context and converting Emma into a sixteen-year old high school student, Heckerling is able, through the school particularly, to illustrate that the issue of one’s status in society has not changed greatly, especially through Emma’s eyes and other arrogant people at her school, such as Elton and Amber. The filmic technique that most exemplifies this point and allows Heckerling to get the idea through to her audience is explored when Cher is filmed in her school environment, which basically makes up most of her world, apart from shopping and attending certain parties, because of the fact that she is so young. A long shot of the entrance to the high school is shown with a fair bit of landscape in the background and students ‘hanging around’ in their groups or circles. ‘Betties’ (good-looking girls), ‘Barneys’ (unattractive guys), ‘loser loadies’ (potheads), and...
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