Whiplash Premiers at The New York Film Festival
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”
Sometimes movies are that thing you have to sit through in class, or drool through—awakened by a moist puddle on your left cheek. The beauty of the film festival experience is you have no idea if the artistic motifs will put you to sleep or invigorate your soul. Whiplash accomplishes the latter, opening with a shuffle of the drumsticks as the camera moves through a long hallway to Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) who is practicing on his drum set. A whimper and then a bang. Not the way those stoner kids down the block played, but the way an Olympic athlete does—blood, sweat and tears.
As Andrew practices he is interrupted by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a music teacher at the prestigious Shafer Music School where Andrew is a student. Simmons with his imposing presence (he can play as many different characters as he wants, but he will always be the Neo Nazi in OZ—you know the one who rams his dick in your ass) plays a few mind games with Andrew and walks away. Eventually Andrew gets his chance to play in Fletcher’s band as an alternate and the bloodbath begins: Fletcher asserts cunning inquiries into Andrew’s personal life, slaps him across the face, and throws music equipment along with every imaginable obscenity—the kitchen isn’t hot, its on fire and Andrew isn’t leaving.
Andrew’s fervor for the drums intensifies as he practices to the point of bloody fingers and a box of Band-Aids. A great artist when put to task does not question his teacher’s methods, but rises to the occasion. We are here because someone told us we were good at something, but good transforms to great when a challenge is presented. The challenge becomes the bait more than the actual thing we are trying to obtain. It’s never really about being good at the drums, more the mind fuck that is attributed to perfection.
Andrew has accomplished the task of many great artists—shutting out the whole world until the only thing that greats him in the morning is a set of drums. His only friend is his father (Paul Riser) whom he goes to the movies with. His dad likes Raisinets mixed with popcorn while Andrew prefers Swedish fish.
The director, Damien Chazelle, first brought Whiplash to the Sundance Film Festival as a short, which starred Simmons and Johnny Simmons (no relation, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Andrew. The short allowed the film to obtain funding for the feature, which was shot in Los Angeles (New York for exteriors) over the course of only nineteen days. With a musician’s precision and Miles Teller as his muse, Chazelle has created a masterpiece in tone and presentation, which accosts you on an operatic level.
After seeing the short starring Johnny Simmons it’s easy to see why Teller was cast, Chazelle’s first choice, Teller’s amount of charisma and talent is astonishing. As Teller mentioned during the Q&A after the film, with the absurdity of stylizing his drum technique towards a jazz polish in a matter of weeks, no acting was necessary. “Usually acting presents an acting problem, but for this particular thing because you are playing the drums I am not worried about my face.” While The Spectacular Now put Teller on the map, Whiplash will catapult him to the stars.
Simmons is right there with him, a classically trained musician, who never misses a beat. With his massive biceps and scowling face he makes Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay look like Snuggles. While Miyagi Kesuke had unorthodox methods for training Daniel, heart was always at the core, not winning “if come from inside you always right one.” Fletcher’s methods are more in line with Cobra Kia:
Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?
Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?
Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?
Although the film contemplates if all this abuse is necessary, its strength lies in the ability to understand that the abuse always comes from within. Andrew chooses to be in the class and marvels in the ciaos, holding his own as he confronts Fletcher on several occasions. In one particular scene when blood and a few possible broken bones result, nothing will stop Andrew from the ecstasy of success. It is his demon to fight; Fletcher is merely supplying the syringe.
Whiplash comes out in limited release October 10th in the U.S. and will be showcased in the upcoming London Film Festival on October 15th.
Q&A at Lincoln Center
A clip of the first short at Sundance