Friday, November 07, 2014

“Whiplash“ reviews coming in

The Keanu firing his gun up in the
air and going AHHH scene of the movie.
Well, the sensational jazz education/drumming melodrama Whiplash is now in theaters at last. You'll recall I abused it pretty severely before its general release, based on what most people would consider to be thin evidence— the howler-laden advance clips and photos, and the things people were writing about it. The reviews are starting to come in, and if Rotten Tomatoes's “Tomato-meter” is to be trusted, the thing is a SMASH HIT with the critics. In how it actually handles its subject matter, it is, to all appearances, living up to my expectations.

In case you haven't heard, it's a movie about a young drummer with the modest artistic vision of being as big as Buddy Rich, a jazz drummer the filmmakers have heard of.  He spends most of the movie on the losing side of a battle of egos with an abusive jazz studies professor.

People have sent me a couple of reviews which are worth reading. First, from Richard Brody at the New Yorker (h/t to Ed Pierce for the link):

The movie’s very idea of jazz is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature.

That's... not a good start.

In “Whiplash,” the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement. He doesn’t study music theory, not alone and not [...] with his peers. There’s no obsessive comparing of recordings and styles, no sense of a wide-ranging appreciation of jazz history—no Elvin Jones, no Tony Williams, no Max Roach, no Ed Blackwell. In short, the musician’s life is about pure competitive ambition—the concert band and the exposure it provides—and nothing else. The movie has no music in its soul...

Like, I'm pretty that firing his gun up in the air
to express raw emotion is one thing a highly-
trained FBI agent would never do. It's pretty much 
the last thing he would ever do with his weapon.
Brody addresses a scene I commented on before:

The core of the movie is the emotional and physical brutality that Fletcher metes out to Andrew, in the interest (he claims) of driving him out of self-satisfaction and into hard work. Fletcher levels an ethnic slur at Andrew, who’s Jewish; he insults his father, smacks him in the face repeatedly to teach him rhythm, hazes him with petty rules that are meant to teach military-style obedience rather than musical intelligence. [...] 
To justify his methods, [the abusive professor] Fletcher tells [our young egomaniac drummer] Andrew that the worst thing you can tell a young artist is “Good job,” because self-satisfaction and complacency are the enemies of artistic progress. It’s the moment where [the director] Chazelle gives the diabolical character his due, and it’s utter, despicable nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with “Good job,” because a real artist won’t be gulled or lulled into self-satisfaction by it: real artists are hard on themselves, curious to learn what they don’t know and to push themselves ahead.

Do follow the link and read the full review.

After the break, Brooklyn drummer John Colpitts, aka Kid Millions, has some things to say about it:


I’m not even sure Whiplash is a good movie — but in terms of drumming and the practice of music, it’s a farce.

Likewise, I know there are some messed-up drummers out
there who abuse their instruments out of some kind of misplaced
anger and hostility, but they are really abject losers. Having
your characters do it is just absurdly false, and shows you
actually know nothing about your subject.     
It's as if the more people know and care about music, the less they like the movie.

Is there something about music that feels galvanic and spiritual here? No, no, it’s straight-up academy, boot camp, overcompetitive, testosterone-fueled posturing. There’s nothing to prove to us that music matters to these characters. There’s absolutely no backstory for Fletcher. I thought, OK, he dresses in these tight black shirts, he’s very cut and everyone he sees is a “c______g f___t” — perhaps he’s a self-hating gay man. That might be intriguing. Maybe those scenes were cut. It’s never explored. 
[...] The band leader Fletcher literally is an abuser — he’s slapping students, calling them “c_______s,” “ladies” and “f____ts,” as this country’s uncritical romanticization of all things military bleeds into the halls of this fictional music school. It’s all about hazing and brutality.  

Never mind the character, what does this say about the filmmakers? In 2014, violently and unironically questioning someone's sexuality in a movie is literally as shocking and original as shouting “Free Bird” at a rock gig. Even in Full Metal Jacket— the apparent inspiration for this movie— there's an element of humor to that stuff. And it wasn't something that commie Kubrick imposed on the material; it's original to actual former USMC drill instructor Lee Ermey's schtick. So the filmmakers, and the JAZZ MUSICIANS in their world, are actually more clueless and humorless than the Marine Corps.

At one point Fletcher pulls a floor tom away from a drummer and throws it against a wall; I’m thinking, why would you do this to an instrument? I mean, I understand destruction and anger in music but these guys are trying to play “Caravan,” they’re not the Who at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

I know we're making an adrenaline-soaked thrill-ride of emotion here, but you'll notice that in The Color Of Money nobody actually wailed on the pool table with the Balabushka, snapped it over his knee and lit it on fire— the case just got kicked around a little bit. In Searching For Bobby Fisher, Ben Kingsley scatters the chess pieces at one point. He does not attack the board with an axe. Because actually abusing your tools is something not even a hotheaded young Tom Cruise would ever do. It is quite possible to have strong visuals without utterly scrapping the concept of truth. 

Without giving anything away, I’ll tell you that the movie ends with a drum solo.

The pinnacle of achievement. I can't wait.
 

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