In the Time Before, when she could still go to museums and mingle, Amy Heckerling liked to visit New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. There, she’d often see crowds congregating around Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” the oil canvas showing the view from his French asylum window. Van Gogh painted his most famous masterpiece in 1889, just a year before his death as a penniless, unsuccessful artist.
“The whole room is always packed,” Heckerling recently told Refinery29 over the phone ahead of Paramount's release of the 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition of Clueless on July 21. “I wish he had known that. Don’t you wish that Van Gogh would have known?
Heckerling feels lucky to have seen her own masterpiece, 1995’s Clueless, become a massive pop culture behemoth. The movie — which, at 25, is now older than Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) — is more popular than ever, more than two decades after its release. Its Netflix streaming release in June was greeted with enthusiastic fanfare, as fans rushed to re-acquaint themselves with the well-meaning Beverly Hills blonde and her fascinating circle of friends. There are winks to Clueless in the reboot of the Babysitters Club, which stars Silverstone as Kristy’s mother. Memes and reworked footage flood the internet at every turn (Heckerling knows all about them, and even has her favorites.), and Cher’s famous immigration debate speech can reliably be spotted on signs at protests around the country. A musical, which Heckerling wrote, opened off-Broadway in 2018 with Dove Cameron donning Cher’s signature yellow plaid separates.
But when it comes to the legacy of her film, Heckerling is wary about pontificating. All she knows is that she made the movie she wanted to make, and she’s thrilled that it’s lasted as long as it has.
“How do you not get happy about that?” she exclaimed. “Anybody that tries to write or direct or paint or do anything wants people to see what they’ve done and like it. It’s so hard and so rare to get to do something the way you want it to be, and then for people to appreciate. I was very, very lucky that I got to do a movie that was exactly what was in my head. That’s a wonderful feeling.”
Making that particular version of the film, however, wasn’t an easy journey. Ahead, Heckerling describes how she convinced the studio that stories about women were important, and whether she thinks Josh and Cher would still be together.
Refinery29: Cher and Josh’s relationship is a key part of what has made Clueless a classic. What do you think is the key factor in creating good on-screen chemistry?
“There’s gotta be some spark and some conflict. That was the fun part for me — all their fighting. In figuring out what their romantic relationship was going to be, I thought,: They’re going to give each other grief, but with love. And they would both make each other better people. She would think too well of herself, and he would make her have to evaluate certain decisions she made. He might be thinking a little too negatively about everything, and she would have to make him try to have fun and lighten up. They would be good for each other, and when you sense that, the other stuff works.”
Do you think they’d still be together?
“In my brain? Yeah.”
Were there things you wanted to include in the movie that you felt — or were told — you couldn’t?
“I had a lot of pushback — it was developed at another studio, and I was sort of trying to figure out how to make their notes work, which was just not what was in my head at all. They wanted to have a much stronger boy presence, and to see what was going on with the guys when you’re not with Cher. It didn’t make any sense to me. This is from inside her head! I couldn’t make it work. I tried to incorporate some things but ultimately...no. They passed on it, and it went to turnaround, which is when you show to all different studios at once. Everybody said no, because they weren’t interested in a female-driven comedy with a name like Clueless. [The response was basically:] ‘We don’t want stupid young people, [and] we don’t want girls, that’s not what’s tracking now.’
“Then Scott Rudin read it, and he liked it, so everybody wanted to have a bidding war for it.”
Was Cher’s voiceover always part of the script?
“Yeah — that’s what I imagined. [Everyone’s] always talking about [Jane Austen’s] Emma as far as the plotline and character. But it was also influenced by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — the book, not the movie. And that was very much a faulty narrator. It’s not the eyes of god — you’re in the person’s head, and they’re telling you a story.”
What’s a detail from the movie that you love that you wish more people noticed?
“Gee, there really isn’t one. I’m very happy with the response it’s gotten. People are always sending me things online, memes and stuff, and messing around with it. It just seems like lots of pieces are always being pulled up to express one thing or another. Somebody sent me a picture of people at the protest holding a sign that said: ‘All cops are virgins who can’t drive.’ [laughs] And of course, with the different immigration policies, there’s always someone with a sign that says ‘It doesn’t say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.’
The immigration debate has become so relevant. What were the origins of that scene?
“When I was at Beverly Hills High School watching classes, there was a debate class — Mr. Hall’s class — and I would always sit in there and listen. I came up with a bunch of different speeches that people would have based on things happening in the news, and how Cher would relate them to her own life. I just liked the idea that she is very confident, and she thinks that she’s found solutions, and if the government could just behave like her, everything would be good. It kept that optimism, but also the good heart of wanting to share with everybody.”
Even today, there’s still this tendency to feel as if we have to justify why Clueless is important — it’s about high school BUT it’s also a satire. It’s about a woman BUT it’s not stupid. Does that frustrate you?
“I’m tired of it all. I spent a year hearing a studio tell me that nobody would see it unless I made it about the boys. How am I supposed to feel?”
Profiles of you as a director tend to use the word “resilient” a lot. Do you think that’s a term we use only to describe women?
“Yeah, why do we have to be resilient? There’s been such a big surge and movement, and yet you look at the Director’s Guild statistics, and it’s no better than when I started. I don’t want to say anything bad about anybody, but they say that men can have a few failures; women get kicked out after one. It’s a risky business, so it’s hard not to do anything or accomplish anything if you don’t take a risk at failing.”
Paramount will release the 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition of Clueless, including over an hour of special features, as well as a a limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook, on July 21.