SGNEWWAVE Presents – Whiplash (2014)

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”.”

I have watched Whiplash three times and will continue to watch it whenever I feel disconnected from my drumset and sticks. Like Andrew, I am a musician. The only difference: I am not nearly as committed.  Whiplash is an ode to artists, a film that acknowledges their hard work and the tenacity they have put into their respective arts. To artists like me, Whiplash is oddly comforting to watch but to everyone else, this film acts as an exposé. It reveals the terrifying truth behind jazz music- the completely demented conductors and the equally insane musicians under them that play to exhaustion or even worse.

Andrew Neiman, a young drummer with dreams of stardom, transforms from an average alternate drummer in a second-class school band to, what Terrence Fletcher refers to, as “the next Charlie Parker”. To achieve this, he essentially lived, breathed and ate jazz. He goes to the irrational extent of moving his drumset into his room to maximise his practice time and exclusively listening to jazz records; he breaks up with his girlfriend Nicole since he was convinced that she would hinder him from becoming “one of the greats” and only imagined a world of jazz without room for romance; finally, he reaches the pinnacle of his dedication: the car crash. He was so hell-bent on maintaining his position as the core-drummer that he stooped to self-destruction and heads to the performance all bloodied from the car crash, completely ignoring his well-being. This parallels an invisible yet influential figure in the film, Sean Casey, a brilliant saxophone player who suffered depression while being trained by Fletcher and committed suicide shortly after.

Similarly, his compulsive practices has also transformed him metaphorically into the film’s anti-hero, Terrence Fletcher. Nieman’s shy demeanour towards Nicole in the beginning of the film dramatically contrasts with his frustrated persona towards the end whose style of cussing slightly resembles that of Fletcher’s. Neiman slowly becomes a spitting image of Fletcher, later becoming the only character in the film with the courage to stand up to him. Though Neiman’s methods are highly destructive, it proves to be effective due to his growing greatness and eventual success during the final performance.

JK Simmons’ stoic performance truly helps breathe life to the monster that is Terrence Fletcher. His witty insults, albeit having a certain degree of humor, became effective in hurting his musicians emotionally because of his apathetic delivery. Likewise, his minimal acting and resting somber expression makes Fletcher difficult to read. As a result, Simmons has us, the audience, hanging on every word he says, noticing every smirk and interpreting it as a possible change of heart then seeing him hurl a chair and realise he has not changed at all. Every positive emotion has an adverse effect on us. Rather than feel happy when he smiles, we anticipate some violent action. All in all, JK Simmons succeeds in making us feel downright uncomfortable, the same way Fletcher does to his musicians.

The cinematography accompanies Andrew’s drumming career appropriately by exemplifying his high moments. Outside of the studio, when he is with his father or girlfriend, there are cold, dark, blue-ish tones to illustrate the dullness and mediocrity of the his life, a life that Andrew wishes to leave. On the other hand, in the studio, warm and orange tones are present to display his desire for success and unrelenting passion for the drums. During his defining, climatic performance, the spotlight shining on him gives him a gold glow, indicating that he has detached himself from his ordinary life and turned into “the next Charlie Parker” and “one of the greats”.

Whiplash exposes how much work musicians and artists put in search for greatness. If we look past the self-destruction and abuse, the film helps us justify adversity in our respective line of work and for the right people, it may even act as inspiration.

– Whiplash is based off a 17-minute short film that debuted at Sundance in 2013.
– Miles Teller could not actually tell whether or not he was “rushing” or “dragging” during production.
– Whiplash is currently the lowest grossing Best Picture nominee since 1990, based on domestic (USA) box office.
– The supporting cast is made up of mostly musicians who never acted before.
– Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese, and Control, directed by Anton Corbijn, were cited to be huge influences on Whiplash.
– Similar to Andrew in the film, director Damien Chazelle was also a drummer and had a ruthless conductor.


By: Angela Mae Macasinag

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