Whiplash (2014) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons Directed by Damien Chazelle Bold Films Whiplash is a well-done movie, the premise, point, and message of which makes me angry. Andrew (played by Miles Teller) is a young jazz drummer who comes to the best music school in the American to study with Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) the best (and most famous, and most contest-winning) teacher there. Except that Fletcher is a tyrant, and thinks nothing of humiliating and even hitting his students in order, he says (and believes?), to push them beyond what they think is possible. Fletcher’s reasoning (if one could call it that) is based on the story of a young Charlie Parker, who showed up at an open mic to jam, and flubbed his part. The drummer, so angry at Parker, threw a cymbal at him, almost, supposedly decapitating him. Parker then, again supposedly, because of this, went home and practiced his ass off, eventually becoming a legend. The point, claims Fletcher, is that if that drummer has just said “Hey man, good job,” Parker never would have been motivated enough to become great. And that is what offends me, both as a musician and a teacher, that this movie, and this director, could take that premise, that one incident, and make it some kind of ‘teachable moment.’ Because it’s ridiculous, and wrong. Good musicians become good musicians because they love music, and play all the time. Yes, there might be a sense of ego, in wanting to be ‘great’, but it really comes down to time put in, to practice, something Whiplash almost hints at, in showing Andrew practicing on his own and listening to his drum heroes. J.K. Simmons, who recently won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role is of course great. He can do everything, from serious roles like this, to comedy like in Juno. He is one of the reasons you might still want to see Whiplash, even though you’ll hate his character, and perhaps the movie. His acting will carry you through to the end, because Fletcher doesn’t just rant, there are moments when he shows tenderness and genuine passion, making one wonder if perhaps, there really is something to Fletcher and this philosophy. The main reason to see Whiplash is the music, both to hear it, and to see musicians performing it. This is what I mean when I say the movie is well done: The camera shots, from close-ups on individual musicians (especially the drummers in this case) to wide angles of the whole jazz orchestras highlight the already great jazz standard songs, like “Caravan” and “Whiplash,” and make me wonder why I don’t listen to big band jazz like this more often. If anything, you’ll want to acquire the soundtrack after seeing the movie. The reason why I, or others, might not listen to big band jazz like this more often is hinted at in the movie, consciously or not I’m not sure, in that all the performances and contests are for rich white people, the only ones who can afford to see a huge orchestra (jazz or classical) these days. Jazz had kind of been co-opted now. There is a scene in which Andrew goes to see his now former teacher in a smaller divey jazz bar, in New York, though even at small divey bars I’m sure the cover charge at the door is probably twenty to forty dollars. But that for Andrew never seems an option: he’s written, and portrayed, as wanting the big spotlight, the big stage, when I think most musicians would love to do a gig in jazz bar as well. But, that’s the thing, we’re supposed to believe that Andrew wants nothing but the best, nothing but the Lincoln Center for him, despite that fact that all his heroes played the divey jazz bars first. I’m just not sure if this is director Damien Chazelle’s mis-understanding, or choosing to not bother with, the real life of musicians, in order to make some bigger supposed point about creativity and teaching. The most disturbing parts of the movie, perhaps because it’s true (i.e. believable) though I don’t want to believe that, are the scenes where a room full of young men (and it is all young men—women musicians are rare in this movie) sit there and take the abuse and ridicule of an old man. It’s not coincidence, I think, that J.K Simmons’ Fletcher is made to look like an army drill sergeant. He’s making the boys into men, making them stronger by mocking their weaknesses. I would feel a lot better about these scenes if Whiplash, and Chazelle, were subverting that myth. Instead, the movie embraces it, telling us that the young men should trust the old men not just in classrooms or music halls, but in the world. This is the kind of mentality that sends young men off to fight wars and, after ruining other people’s lives, to come back ruined themselves. If there’s anything I would want my own students to walk away with from my classes, is the ability to question the old white men in power. Whiplash (2014)John's Rating3.0Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.