The transformation process redefines a story to make it accessible to the culture and values of a contemporary context. The manipulation of medium, genre, setting, characters and plot enables the transformed text to be understood and connect with a new audience.
Amy Heckerling’s post-modern film transformation Clueless (1995) is derived from Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma (1816) with both texts comparable as they use satire to address similar values. The shift in context enables the texts to reinforce the values of Regency England or 1990s Beverly Hills.Heckerling subverts and appropriates the original text to a cinematic context, through this she can comment on American society thus invoking new meaning to the ideas in Emma. Both composers approach the place of the social hierarchy, placing weight on class, marriage and charity. Furthermore, through examination of the transformation process it is evident that human concerns remain intact with values conditional on the world of the text. Emma presents her audience with the ills of a socially stratified society and its repressive constraints manifested through her characters.The conservative social structure of Regency England is established through a clearly defined social organisation which is responsible for determining class by a families inherited wealth and lineage. The eponymous character is presented as the regency stereotype of the upper-class elitist, with the preliminary stages of the novel reflecting the context through the establishment of Emma’s social superiorty.
“Emma Woodhouse, clever, handsome, and rich with a comfortable lifestyle and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings in existence. The opening sentence uses a trochaic rhythm to reveal the heroines place in the higher echelons of Highbury society. Emma’s moral development and her “disposition to think a little to well of herself” as stated by the omniscient narrator amplifies Emma’s vanity gently satirising the behaviour of the individual as a direct by product of their rung on the social ladder. The rise of the mercantile class challenges the established order, the reference to the ‘novous riche’ highlights the shifting class order as people with money derived from trade, slowly joined the social circles of the traditional aristocratic families.The composer satirises this through the caricature of Mrs. Elton who presents the flaws of the mercantile class through an ostentatious and arrogant manner “Mrs. Elton was a vain women, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance” The class system valued by characters such as Knightley and Emma is radically changed and they are forced to deal with the changes in social organisation. The text illustrates the concerns possessed towards class, with attitudes shaped by the context of 19th century England.
Heckerling’s modern transformation highlights the importance of social class; however, the shift in the social hierarchy is reflective of the 1990s teen culture. America was the globes economic power with Beverly Hills an icon of wealth. The artificial world is presented from the outset, with the opening credits using bright colours, rock music and a montage of shots in a MTV clip style so to capture the hyper real world of the “teen flick” and in turn the teen culture that was a product of the material driven society.
The film stresses the significance of social class within the insular LA high school, with an evident shift from Emma as people were classified by their material wealth, popularity and fashion sense. The social levels in Clueless are illustrated when Cher introduces Tai to the various cliques. This highlighted through the point of view shots from the girl’s perspective with Cher’s authorial commentary explaining the school divisions.
“That’s the Persian mafia, you can’t hang with them unless you own a BMW and that’s Elton and all the popular boys in the school. Hence the social separations do not cease to exist, yet economic forces are mystified as class is based on material factors. Clearly, this shows the new meaning brought to Clueless noting the continuation of social separation from the 19th to 20th century society. Social mobility is made more possible through the fluidity of the class system.
Tai’s makeover shown through a sequence of shots and music “Supermodel” emphasises the newcomer as upwardly mobile and is fundamental in revealing how fashion and popularity are key in social advancement.Heckerling draws on Emma, by showing her protagonist as a product of her social conditioning. Cher’s core values of money and fashion are a result of her class thus shaping her life. The combination of the cut to the mall and use of voiceover as she refers to it as a place to “regain my strength” ironically stresses how her class based on material elements is reflective in her actions. Heckerling’s portrayal of class within the American teenage hierarchy illustrates the obvious shift from Austen’s text by reinforcing the values of the hyper-real world through the medium of film.The institution of marriage in 19th century society was of integral importance in maintaining and facilitating the privileges inherent of ones social standing. Within this era British society dictated the importance of marriage, overshadowing romance, as it was a tool to ensure financial stability.
Austen’s text has emulated this through her characters quest to seek advancement such as Jane Fairfax who is juxtaposed against the stubborn independence of Emma who chooses to remain single, validating her decision with economic reasons. It is only poverty that makes celibacy contemptible…but a good woman of a single fortune is always respectable. ” Austen uses dense dialogue to uphold the material imperative of marriage through Emma’s defiance of the social norm.
Furthermore, the text magnifies the attempts to be socially mobile through marriage, evident as Emma devises long-term strategies for advancement thus, demonstrating the desirable goal to belong to a class supported by inherited wealth. This is shown with Emma promoting Mr. Elton over the “society of the illiterate and vulgar” Mr. Martin.Emma’s didactic description of the yeomen farmer marks her attempt to match Harriet with one of higher consequence so her friend doesn’t end up socially inferior like Miss Bates and Miss Goddard who are unmarried. However, order is restored in the text as the concept of marriage between equals is reinforced with Emma’s realisation in her interior monologue “that Mr. Knightley should marry no one but herself”.
Emma’s reward of an equal partner combined with her acceptance of Harriet’s decision to marry Martin emphasises how society valued marriage between equals as it allowed for a consolidation of the social hierarchy.Emma presents the place of marriage within the social hierarchy of Highbury with the value shaped by the attitudes of Highbury. Marriage in Clueless holds less importance than asserted in Emma with the focus placed on sex and romance.
In the world of Clueless marriage had become a temporary alliance with divorce rates at a high. There is a clear shift from Emma as marriage was a disposable part of the society. Heckerling demonstrates this by using a gentle irony through her character Mel Horowitz ho claims in dialogue “we divorce wives not children! ” Mel’s abuse of the institution of marriage undermines its function in Beverly Hills with divorce failing to inflict his position as a wealthy litigator belonging to the higher echelons. However, the text is directed to address the happenings of the teen world so the composer downgrades from the permanency of marriage to focus on dating and sex. The film marks the need for the long-term heterosexual relationship with the pressure to have sex replacing the expectation to marry in Emma.
Tai’s surprise shown through a close up of her face and dialogue claiming “Cher you’re a virgin! ” stresses the expectation to have sex, especially if young, beautiful and rich. Cher’s primary issue is to whom she will lose her virginity to, rather than who she will marry. The fact that “Cher has attitude” when it comes to choosing a partner shows her defiance of social norms, drawing parallels to Austen’s Emma as she only conforms to social expectations when finding a partner of equal stance.
From Cher’s realisation of her love for Josh, a number of middle shots frame the two together highlighting the equality of a romantic match. The exclusion of Christian in the wedding scene undermines homosexuality with the composer manipulating the ending to emphasise how heterosexual dating and sex will result in the conventional marriage. This is reinforced through middle shots of Tai, Dionne and Cher with diagetic sound used to track their conversation about weddings.Clueless, triumphantly changes the concern from Highbury society with a revolutionary comparison of marriage between the two texts. The theme of charity is expressed in Emma as Austen promotes the ‘noblesse oblige’ with social responsibility allotted to the elite in the stratified hierarchy. In Emma, the concept of the noblesse oblige dictated that people of higher consequence were liable for displaying compassion and being charitable to those less fortunate in their immediate world. The text shows this through the actions of Mr.
Knightley and the Woodhouse family. Emma had to pay a charitable visit to a poor sick family. ” The third person narration demonstrates Emma’s charity and uses the past tense “had” to imply how Emma’s visit is a social chore.Emma explores the personal attitudes of the elite in their fulfilment of the noblesse obligee. Knightley and Emma’s approach to charity provide a point of comparison as Knightley carries out his duty with a genuine compassion and personal integrity. “You might not see one in a hundred, with gentlemen so plainly written across them like Mr. Knightley.
Austen’s use of italics exhibits Emma’s astute opinion that Knightley is the true definition of the charitable gentlemen. However, the Box Hill incident reveals Emma’s snobbery with her charitable attitude exposed as part of her social facade. “Her situation should secure your compassion” the heated dialogue between Knightley and Emma compares the two characters differing approaches as he lectures Emma on her false kindness. Knightley’s criticism of the heroine’s lack of propriety and compassion, illustrates Emma’s abuse of her high social standing whilst emphasising the reasoning behind charity.
The heroine’s moral development allows her to see the errors of the way with her personal reflections tracked in the free indirect style allowing the novel to assert the need for empathy when contributing to the immediate environment. Emma presents the social responsibilities of Highbury with the characters actions demonstrating the duties and attitudes of those in the higher echelons. As a result of different contexts, the concern of charity is repositioned to respond to the global and immediate environment of the 1990s.Heckerling takes the idea of social aid from Emma, however alters it to present the need for personal contributions to the social injustice of the global community. This is illustrated through the costuming of Josh, who is depicted as a liberal activist through his Amnesty International and Breast Cancer tops.
Clueless, highlights the globalisation of the world exploring the individual’s ability to make a contribution to their micro and macro environment demonstrating how money and popularity can be used to make a worthwhile contribution.This is emulated in the driving lesson scene, which is manipulated to symbolize the right of passage Cher must undertake to validate her position in the social hierarchy. This evident, as Josh lectures Cher on how popularity can be employed so to make a contribution “Maybe Marky Mark wants to use his popularity for a good cause, make a contribution. ” The continual shots cutting to a close up of the characters masks their differences with Josh stressing that one’s social position can create positive social change.Cher’s moral development ingrains the concept of social responsibility into the heroine’s inner self; this is documented through the voiceover that states “I decided to makeover my soul. ” The characters involvement in the Pismo Beach relief, allows Cher to learn that charity extends to all corners of the globe.
Consequently, both Emma and Cher also learn how charity begins at home, this conveyed in Clueless through Cher’s acceptance of characters. Clueless shares the concerns of charity established in Emma whilst illuminating the values of 1990s LA.Amy Heckerling’s transformation of Austen’s Emma demonstrates that whilst concerns established in the original text are kept in tact, the transformation process enables the text to enforce the values relevant to their world. Both texts satirically explore the place of social hierarchy stressing the importance of class, marriage and charity in contributing to its function.
However, the two texts emulate the values of their contrived worlds through the manipulation of genre, plot, characters and medium. Ultimately, Emma and its post-modern equivalent Clueless share obvious similarities that are transformed to connect with different audiences.