WHIPLASH

Dir. Damien Chazelle. 2014.


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Films about talent and endeavour are ten a penny. Some of them more commercial and cheesy than others: Flashdance for example was a massive hit with a ludicrous plot (welder by day/dancer by night), Chariots of Fire, a classier Oscar™ winner. Whiplash is a shade different as it asks questions about the relative worth of going to excess - the physical and emotional sacrifices to realise potential. J.K Simmons rightly won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the brutal, but effective mentor come conductor come teacher. Anyone familiar with this actor's backstory will remember an equally cruel creature in the HBO prison drama OZ where he gave a frightening White Power homosexual the same kind of force and energy. There he is tutoring a middle class lawyer as to who is boss and made for one of the more compelling storylines of the series.


Whiplash often feels as though we are in other movie territory: the relationship between mentor and student (Andrew, played excellently by Miles Teller)is similar to 'Mayonaise' with the presiding Fletcher doing aLouis Gosset Jr, in An Officer and A Gentleman with the cruel drill sergeant bringing out the best in the cheeky rookie via some cruel to be kind treatment. The fists in water, all bloody and needing taping is true of the training sequences in the Rocky franchise. The ending is like that of Save the Last Dance where the ballet student wows Julliard judges with her Hip Hop classic fusion improv. The Jazz purists have been all over the depiction of the form and its techniques as shown in the film, but there will always be those…..for the layman, the music is the conduit and is very exciting and satisfactory.


The physical brutality and emotional humiliation and its justifiability is the moral heart of the film with the young and undoubtedly talented Andrew being approached by an enquiry body as regards the teaching methodology of Fletcher, having supposedly driven one student to suicide. Political Correctness is all over teaching now with fear struck in the hearts of educational mentors to instil any messages that only work brings rewards. The result being a moribund mediocrity and talent of today trying desperately hard to copy the brilliance of yesteryear: the various shows now available to the young and hopeful facilitate endless streams of wannabe boy bands and Beyonce repulsive replicants.


Has Fletcher motivated or bullied Andrew? In truth, he has delivered one to bring about the other. A consistent reference is made to the infamous jazz story of Charlie Parker and a flying symbol being tossed at his head that nearly decapitated him but that inspired him to go practise. It would be really cool to put this to the vote of the students of some of the top end arts schools where the competition is fierce and entry reliant on dedication and hard work. The questions posed relating to the justifiability of the sacrifices are played out in the sequences involving the girlfriend (he breaks up with her as he knows she will hate his need to practice), and with his preppy contempories he talks with over a dinner with his long suffering father who fails to understand his son's drive and passion to be perfect. Andrew outs across the argument that he would rather be dead at 34, heroin riddled and mistaken for an OAP and be talked about at dinner parties than be a nobody, nobody knows or remembers.


The ending sees Andrew gain the upper hand but this journey almost kills him: the only real flaw in the film is the abrupt ending - we know the sacrifice was worth it to a certain extent as the rookie is rookie no longer, but unlike, say the brass band in Brassed Off, we don't see the award being given or an on screen narrative as to the future for Andrew. The practice is towards what appears to be a parochial school competition, not some highly incentivised reward for young genius. We need to see Andrew take a bow. Excellent performances all round and now available on DVD.


Gail Spencer

 
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