Saturday, May 14, 2016
Interview: Amy Heckerling
Fresh out of film school, director Amy Heckerling hit the ground running in the early '80s. Her first feature, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, remains a classic for its delicate balance of absurdity and pathos and the way it treats its characters with bemused-older-sibling affection laced with comic incredulity. Her next few features were more uneven, the humor generally broader and the emotional stakes often less engaging, but they also had their moments, reflecting the director's quick wit and love of larger-than-life characters, and they never sold their female characters short. In 1996, Heckerling returned to form with Clueless, another brilliant high school comedy—this one written as well as directed by her—that deeply respects and understands its female characters at the same time that it laughs at their, well, cluelessness. This week, I had a chance to speak with Heckerling, who was promoting a retrospective of four of her films by the Metrograph theater in the Lower East Side. Quick to laugh, with a sense of mischief and a lack of interest in mincing words that may explain why she's so drawn to young characters, the filmmaker discussed gender inequality in Hollywood and what movies have in common with the economy.
Fast Times and Clueless are great in so many ways, but what I especially love about them is how well they get American teenage girls, and in such a fun away.
In a fun way is the different thing. There were so many movies about teenage girls. It's a scary, depressing time for a lot of people, and a lot of movies capture that brilliantly. But they may not be as happy. When we came out [with Clueless], there was this movie Kids...
The Larry Clark one?
Yeah. And people were saying, “Oh, you've captured American kids,” and I'm going, “Well, that one did too. It's just, I chose those kids.” [laughs] There are a million stories in the naked city, and I gravitated to the happiest one.
Actually, some pretty tough stuff happens in Fast Times. But the overall tone of it is always comic.
If you're doing something very real, you've got to be wary, like [Jennifer Jason Leigh's Stacy] getting pregnant. There's just so far you can take something like that, in terms of what you'll show and say and how you photograph it, because the rest of the film has these other elements, and it has to be kept up in the air. So, you know, the tone can't go too far.
You weren't the only woman making movies with fully realized female characters in the early '80s, but you may have been the best. And you were coming after such a drought for women, both behind and in front of the camera, after World War II.
There was Ida Lupino. But then there was a long [dry spell]. But then when the baby boomer executives got in there, they were very liberal and political and feminist, there was kind of a switch, allowing women in more. Read the rest in Slant Magazine