Austin's Emma vs Heckerling's Clueless

When we first encounter the respective heroines and their situations in Austen’s
Emma and Heckerling’s Clueless, we are struck by an odd commonality, in spite of
the chasm of time and tradition which stands between them. This shared quality is
self-centredness; specifically, each protagonists’ tendency to place herself and her
inner circle at the proverbial centre of the universe. But these two young women are
represented in utterly disparate contexts, reflecting the quantum leap that societal
norms, values and mores took between Regency England and 1990s USA. And the
creative opportunities open to Heckerling in film (as apposed to novel) as she draws
her complex contemporary incarnation of Emma are so manifold that this was her
genre of choice. Three key advantages of this form clearly evident in Clueless are: a
colourful and clearly drawn diegesis, first person narration by the heroine and an aural
bombardment of character voices.
Students of Emma often lament the seemly laborious passages of exposition which
acquaint us with the characters, landscapes and domiciles of Highbury. Irrespective
of the validity of this protest, Heckerling has made a conscious move to avoid
such narrative exhaustiveness in her rendering of Emma and the youth-dominated
Beverly Hills precinct. She does this by employing techniques at the beginning of
the film including establishing shots oozing opulence and privilege and a thematic
montage set to the revamped 1980s anthem ‘Kids in America”. The latter is featured
as both an orientation and an opening credits sequence. The song title itself neatly
and comprehensively conveys the spine of Clueless, and in conjunction with the
introductory shots of Cher Horowitz having a fantastically carefree time with her
friends, the strong yet feminine lead vocals and the full lighting (rendering the shots
distinctly ‘happy’, as mandated by the inscrutable Heckerling), serves to set the
tone of the film and concurrently prepare...