YOU’RE OLD ALERT: Clueless Turns 20 This Weekend
“Is this like a Noxema commercial, or what?”
It’s those first words uttered by Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone) that began our love affair with Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, which hit theaters 20 years ago this weekend. Loosely based on Jane Austen’s coming-of-age novel Emma, the movie reminds us that even the most privileged among us can’t escape the sometimes-brutal pangs of entering adulthood.
All these years later, Clueless continues to resonate. Iggy Azalea recreated key scenes from the film in her video for “Fancy.” Countless designers have mimicked the film’s memorable fashion in their collections through the years. And it has a Tumblr following as strong as any modern movie out there.
There’s no doubt about it, Clueless is a certifiable cult classic—and its two-decade anniversary is something worth celebrating. I offer my hat tip via these 20 behind-the-scenes movie facts that you might’ve not known about Cher and the rest of the Clueless crew.
1. Bye, Alicia
In the early ’90s, Clueless creator Amy Heckerling pitched Fox a “girlie”show called No Worries. The network rejected it, fearing no one would care about a show with so many teenage girls. Heckerling went back to the drawing board, reshaping her characters into a feature screenplay called Clueless in California, which eventually became I Was A Teenage Teenager before finally becoming plain ol’ Clueless.
2. Where did the language come from?
When asked about the oh-so-quotable language from the film, Heckerling said she came up with it by listening to minority communities. “Any outsider group is going to create their own language,” she told a reporter. “Whether it’s homosexual, black, prisoners, or cab drivers. You just have to be willing to open your ears and listen.” And we most certainly did.
3. How do you say that word?
Alicia Silverstone actually had no idea how to pronounce “Haitians” during her infamous immigration debate with Ambular. The diva mispronounced it on camera but Heckerling told the producers not to correct her. She thought it was funnier that way.
4. Get me that Aerosmith girl
Anyone who watched MTV in the ’90s knew Silverstone from her lead role in the trio of classic Aerosmith videos “‘Cryin’,” “Amazing” and “Crazy.” Heckerling was one of those people: “I saw the ‘Cryin’ video for Aerosmith, and when Alicia gave the finger, I said, ‘There’s my girl.'” Also, Silverstone didn’t officially audition for the role of Cher. A simple lunch meeting sold Heckerling on the rising Hollywood diva.
5. So many Chers, just one Alicia
While it’s hard to imagine Cher Horowitz being played by anyone other than Alicia Silverstone, a number of actresses were originally linked to the role, including Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
6. Paul Rudd’s identity crisis
Before he landed the role of Cher’s ex-stepbrother/future lover Josh, Paul Rudd auditioned for almost every male part in the film, including Elton, Travis and Christian, the gay object of Cher’s affection. He even auditioned for the role of Murray, but didn’t get it because, well, the character is black.
7. The suck-and-blow struggle was real
One of the most memorable scenes from Clueless is the party in The Valley, which found the characters playing a game called “Suck-n-Blow.” Apparently, the game is rather difficult, because no one in the cast could do it with an actual credit card. They had to substitute fake cardboard versions with holes drilled in them to make the cards easier to suck. When that didn’t work, the cast ended up wearing chapstick — lots and lots of chapstick — to get their lips to stick to the prop cards.
8. You really didn’t know the 411 on Christian?
Throughout the movie, there are a number of pretty obvious clue-ins about Christian’s sexuality. In one scene, for instance, he’s seen reading Junkie by queer beat poet William S. Burroughs. He also suggests watching Tony Curtis’s Spartacus and Some Like It Hot, two films famously laced with gay undertones. To further indicate how “clueless” Cher was when it came to her future with Christian, he’s first introduced standing next to a newspaper headline that reads “On the Road to Nowhere.”
9. Is that you, Ms. Heckerling?
À la Hitchcock, Amy Heckerling has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the film, at the end during Mr. Hall and Miss Geist’s wedding. When we see the girls going for the tossed bouquet, there’s one girl that’s fighting for it the hardest — yep, that’s her.
10. Mr.Hall was a real Mr. Hall
The character of Mr. Hall is a real person. He was based on Herb Hall, an old debate teacher of Heckerling’s who actually played the principal in Clueless. Wallace Shawn, the actor who played Mr. Hall, was actually a teacher before he became an actor. No wonder he fit the role to perfection.
11. So much ’90s pop culture
While Clueless is considered a bonafide ’90s pop culture gem, the film itself is baked with a number of references to iconic ’90s movies and TV shows, like Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, Forrest Gump and, of course, the Mentos commercials.
12. Baldwins and Betties and Barnies, oh my
We’re all well-versed on the definition of a “Baldwin,” but many people didn’t get what it meant to be a Betty or a Barney. The labels — Cher’s old-school version of “Hot or Not” — reference The Flintstones, in which schlubby Barney somehow managed to bag total-babe Betty. Now, it all makes sense.
13. Calling cousin Balki
Much of Clueless is set at Bronson Alcott High School, has a funny double meaning. At the time of filming, Heckerling was dating actor Bronson Pinchot aka Cousin Balki of Perfect Strangers fame. Pinchot’s middle name was Alcott, and he was named after 19th century abolitionist and suffrage leader Amos Bronson Alcott. To throw you for another doozy, he was also father of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott.
14. Plaid for days
There were 53 kinds of plaid in Clueless. The fashion was helmed by costume designer Mona May, who went on to do the costumes for other Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, The Wedding Singer, and Never Been Kissed. And just how many costume changes does Ms. Silverstone have in Clueless? 60.
15. Say yes to the dress
Another slice of fashion heaven in the movie is the sexy white Calvin Klein dress that we all know wasn’t Cher’s father’s favorite getup. While he may have disagreed with his daughter’s sexy fashion choice, fans of the film didn’t. Increased interest over the years prompted Calvin Klein to reissue the slinky white wrap dress in 2010.
16. Will the real Cher please stand up
Although Cher’s last name in the film is “Horowitz,” that’s not the name that shows up on her “negotiated” report card, which is issued to someone with the surname “Hamilton.” This very well might’ve been a mistake, but it’s more likely a nod to Heckerling’s other well-received teen film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, whose main character was named Stacy Hamilton, another 15-year-old struggling to find her way through the high school halls.
17. Murray only pulled a half-Britney
Back at the party in the Valley, Murray famously shaves his head in the bathroom. Well, sort of. He really only buzzed the top of his noggin, because production wanted him to keep hair on the sides so he wouldn’t look bald in yet-to-be-filmed previous scenes. That’s probably why Murray is always wearing a hat in the movie.
18. Fear of freeway
The infamous scene in which Cher, Murray and Dionne accidentally get on the L.A. freeway was inspired by one of Heckerling’s real-life fears. “I always have to ashamedly say, ‘I don’t drive on the freeway,'” she once admitted. “In L.A. it’s like a physical handicap. I wanted to make fun of that.”
19. Coolio was all about his “homies”
Rapper Coolio wanted to create the perfect song for the Valley party scene, which is how “Rollin With My Homies” was born. At the time of the movie’s release, Coolio was one of the hottest things going, as “Gangta’s Paradise,” from Dangerous Minds, was heating up that summer’s radio waves.
20. “You’re a virgin who can’t drive”
Perhaps one of the greatest lines in the movie is served up by the dearly departed Brittany Murphy, whoseTy throws ’90s-style shade at Cher when she tells her “you’re a virgin who can’t drive.” But, what you might not know is that it was actually the other way around. Before she passed away in 2009, the actress looked back on Clueless and its legacy:”I really was a virgin who couldn’t drive. I was living in an apartment in the Valley with my mom — and I remember starting to see these huge billboards of us all over town. It was amazing!”
Bonus: Golden Betties
And, just in case you forgot, the Golden Girls did a Clueless parody at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards.
Follow Patrick DeMarco @PhillyMixTape