My brother messaged me a few weeks back saying that there was a film I had to see. I was sulking at the time, so I left it for a few days. Once we had settled that, we made a time to meet and see the film. Prior to meeting up with my brother, I had a typical tiring workday in London, the type that makes you immediately contemplate cancelling plans, even though you were psyched when you made them. We met up in Soho, had noodles, some “one hitters” off the vaporiser and some plum wine. I was convinced I was going to fall asleep. When I got to the cinema it was revealed that the film I was going to see was Whiplash. The reason my brother wanted me to see it was this, before becoming a self-proclaimed African punk legend, I was a young twenty-year-old doing a jazz* drumming class at a college in Durban. It was for this reason that cynicism set in, as I began to think, this film was going to take a dehydrated stinky piss all over my nostalgia.
The reason for the pompous introduction is that my brother was correct in assuming I would enjoy it. My nostalgia was reawakened as opposed to pissed on. In the movie we have the main character, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a kind of plumpish awkward nerdy kid doing his first year at jazz college. He plays the part well and by that I mean his acting. It’s good that his character is an awkward drumming nerd obsessing over musical tablature, tabbing out beats and phrases. I mean who would believe it if the kid was cool like drumming rock god Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters? I sure as fuck don’t know anyone, beside myself, who went to a musical college to study jazz drums, and I know a lot of cool people.
J.K. Simmons plays the main supporting role, the arsehole conductor, Terence Fletcher. In terms of the character, he plays the role well, his main focus is to get each musician playing to the best of their ability and there is no contingencies made for being nice about it. I like people who play good arseholes, like Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore or Glenn Guglia in the Wedding Singer. The difference with this character and other good arsholes is that he’s not a comedic arsehole. In fact, the only thing comedic is the barbarous insults, which he hurls quite frequently. The problem with being in charge of a subject like music is that it’s not a science, the line between what is correct and what is incorrect is unclear. In the movie the arsehole uses this to his advantage by stopping songs, asking people whether they are in tune or not, whether they think the tempo is too fast, never being objective or stating what exactly is wrong. This practice extends outside the rehearsal room, as the viewer you are never quite sure of the correct position. It is this blend of psychological manipulation that makes this arsehole character compelling. We can’t be sure whether he is a sadistic arsehole, an arsehole with a purpose or just a simple arsehole. In terms of the arsehole’s relationship with the main character, the arsehole keeps carrot-and-sticking Andrew, the jazz nerd. Every time Andrew thinks he’s made it or pleased Fletcher he gets made to look like a cunt.
The techniques of teaching are a bit farfetched but, it’s a movie, if I wanted a factual representation of jazz school drumming I’d watch a documentary (which would be boring and sad). Fletcher’s reasons for pushing and abusing this young boy (no need for Operation Yew Tree references) remain unclear throughout the film. The story line is unpredictable, it’s not “School of Rock” it’s more like “School of you’re a complete cock.” Another good thing about this movie is that it gives you an insight into a life that most music fans never experience. I only got a taste of the life, it’s impressive the amount of dedication someone can put into one instrument. When I was doing my jazz course some of the top lecturers who came over on exchange would spend all night rehearsing in the studio. Most of the people I know use that time and dedication to create a scene, put on shows, write songs and make zines. This movie is interesting; it approaches music from a different angle.
I know we are in the downloading age, but you would miss out on the full experience by downloading this online. I suggest watching this in the movie theatre—A top level sound system adds an extra level to this film.
*This denotes saying the word jazz in a poncey way and possibly doing the jazz hands symbol.