movie star drool · stuff I read

As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as told by Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew by Jen Chaney

Summary from Goodreads:
Acclaimed pop culture journalist Jen Chaney shares an oral history of the cult classic film Clueless in the ultimate written resource about one of the most influential, revered, and enduring movies of the 1990s—in celebration of its twentieth anniversary.

Will we ever get tired of watching Cher navigate Beverly Hills high school and discover true love in the movie Clueless? As if! Written by Amy Heckerling and starring Alicia Silverstone, Clueless is an enduring comedy classic that remains one of the most streamed movies on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes even twenty years after its release. Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless is an everlasting pop culture staple.

In the first book of its kind, Jen Chaney has compiled an oral history of the making of this iconic film using recollections and insights collected from key cast and crew members involved in the making of this endlessly quotable, ahead-of-its-time production. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how Emma influenced Heckerling to write the script, how the stars were cast into each of their roles, what was involved in creating the costumes, sets, and soundtrack, and much more.

This wonderful twentieth anniversary commemoration includes never-before-seen photos, original call sheets, casting notes, and production diary extracts. With supplemental critical insights by the author and other notable movie experts about why Clueless continues to impact pop culture, As If! will leave fans new and old totally buggin’ as they understand why this beloved film is timeless.

The motion picture Clueless opened the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.  By the time we started school in the fall my classmates and I were fluent in Clueless-speak, “Whatever!” (complete with hand gesture) being the most popular by far. The over-the-knee-socks trend with Mary Janes and plaid miniskirts made an appearance (I had the Mary Janes).  We bought the VHS and watched it a lot – my crowd was mostly music and drama kids so quoting along with the dialogue was a frequent activity.

Now that Clueless is officially having its 20th birthday (and totally partied with the Haiti-ans) – ugh, when did I get old – Jen Chaney has pulled together the cast and crew for a delightful, dope oral history of the production and staying power of the movie.  She originally started the project for a magazine article but there is so much information here that I can’t imagine having to pick and choose what parts to highlight in a magazine article, even a long one.  Almost everyone from the producers to the stars to the set decorators agreed to be interviewed and Chaney pulled in quotes from previously published pieces from the last 20 years.

The absolute best parts of this book are the sections dealing with casting, costuming, locations, and the soundtrack.  What would Clueless have been like had the producers pushed to use Lauryn Hill as Dionne rather than Stacey Dash who was so great in the role? Or if Seth Green was Travis?  The costume designer essentially created an entire fashion trend to put the Clueless girls at the cutting edge of fashion and work against the grunge aesthetic.  Turns out the liquor store with the creepy clown is a real place in LA (Chaney even interviewed the actor who played the robber).  And what Oasis song almost ended up on the Clueless soundtrack?  And what did the Bosstones really think about doing a teen movie that wasn’t really in their target audience?  (And find out how “outtie” is really spelled….spoiler, that isn’t the correct spelling or derivation, to my surprise.)

The only drawback to the book is that everyone is so darned nice about everything.  If you’re looking for juicy Hollywood gossip, this book just doesn’t really have it.  With the exception of some side-eye between producers, no one reports anything crazy happening on set or on press tour.  Amy Heckerling (the writer and director) was so great.  Wallace Shawn is very gracious.  Alicia Silverstone worked so hard (which she did, given that Cher was in almost every shot of the movie).  Paramount really got what Heckerling was going for.  Everyone thought the world of Brittany Murphy and her wide-eyed innocence and mourns her loss.  Etc, etc etc. Though we all look for drama in any Hollywood story, it is actually a little bit reassuring (though my cynical side feels like perhaps everyone was on their best interview behavior) to find that Heckerling’s pastel-colored, happy, inclusive world of Clueless was supported by a lot of hard-working, gracious, talented people who worked as a team to put out an iconic, groundbreaking piece of art.

As If! is available July 7, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a digital advance of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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