Whiplash (2002) – Damien Chazelle (Friday’s Finest)

I mentioned J.K Simmons (image above) imposing bit part in the movie Up In the Air two weeks ago. Today we get to revel in what he is truly capable of as an actor. This independent psychological drama is as brutal to watch as it is engrossing in nearly every scene. Damien Chazelle (pictured left) is one of the most astute and admired young directors going around. He wrote the script of Whiplash in 2013 when he was just 28 years old. He drew upon his experiences in a “very competitive” jazz band in high school.

IMDB Storyline:

Andrew Neiman, a 19-year-old jazz drummer is determined to rise to the top of the country’s most elite music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Juno), an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability and his sanity.

There is a very fine line between mentor / motivator and abuser. This movie seems to draw that line and expose it for all its worth. I lived as cadet in a Military Academy run by other cadets. Lord of the Flies if you will. I think what this film achieves is a good thing, but since perhaps 2000 I believe our educators have gone too soft and there exists an ‘Everyone is a winner‘ mentality in Education that started from Herbert Marcuse’s ‘Repressive Tolerance‘ book and thereafter Paulo Freire’s push towards critical pedagogy. Meritocracy has in many respects been shown the door. AI such as Chat GPT 4.0 and other such information intelligences could render Meritocracy obsolete in months / years.

Whiplash was initially sponsored as a short film but was backed by the production companies Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions to be made into a full feature. It premiered at Sundance in 2014 and won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize for drama. The film ended up grossing grossed $49 million on a $3.3 million budget making it Chazelle’s highest grossing feature until La La Land (2016). It was shot in just 19 days.

There are other absorbing facts below from the Wikipedia article:

While attending Princeton High School Damien Chazelle was in the “very competitive” Studio Band and drew on the dread he felt in those years. He based the conductor, Terence Fletcher, on his former band instructor (who died in 2003) but “pushed it further”, adding elements of Buddy Rich and other band leaders known for their harsh treatment. Chazelle said he wrote the film “initially in frustration” while trying to get his musical La La Land off the ground.

Early on, Chazelle gave J. K. Simmons direction that “I want you to take it past what you think the normal limit would be,” telling him: “I don’t want to see a human being on-screen anymore. I want to see a monster, a gargoyle, an animal.” Many of the band members were real musicians or music students, and Chazelle tried to capture their expressions of fear and anxiety when Simmons pressed them. 

Having taught himself to play drums at age 15, the protagonist Teller performed much of the drumming seen in the film. Supporting actor and jazz drummer Nate Lang, who plays Teller’s rival Carl in the film, trained Teller in the specifics of jazz drumming; this included changing his grip from “matched” to “traditional”. For certain scenes, professional drummer Kyle Crane served as Teller’s drum double.

1. Whiplash (2014 film) – Wikipedia
2. Whiplash – IMDB

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Movies and TV
8 comments on “Whiplash (2002) – Damien Chazelle (Friday’s Finest)
  1. Badfinger (Max) says:

    A few years ago…Bailey sat me down and made me watch this…I’m glad he did…brilliant movie. It was one of the first movies he turned me onto instead of the other way around.

    • Hi Max. Long time no see! I realise you were busy with work commitments. I too have been busy but with family commitments, so excuse my tardy response.
      Bailey, did well recommending Whiplash to you. I’m so impressed with what the young writer – director Damien Chazelle has turned out so far.

      • Badfinger (Max) says:

        I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did but man it’s a really really good movie. Yeah I got most of my work stuff done so I should be good now, so I started back posting on Thursday I believe.

      • So glad you’re back and that your work has been tended to.
        Yeh, I have a mountain of back posts from ‘following pages’ that I want and need to catch up on this afternoon. So I’m buckled in after ridiculously busy weekend.

  2. Reely Bernie says:

    A tough one for me: As a music teacher for 20 years, I disagree with 80% of Simmons’s character’s methods; however, I completely agree with “good job” being the most unproductive, toxic words to an undeserving performance of art. Such meaningless, insulting words, and they are even worse when the mediocre performer feels affirmed in mediocrity. I find that honest critique make us stronger both in musicianship and confidence. But, yikes, what that guy gets away with!

    • I like your quote about ‘good job’ from the movie and your comment.
      Perhaps not in the music field which I haven’t been exposed to like you, but people like what Simmons represents are a dime a dozen especially in the Military. It’s that fine line between motivator and abuser.
      Just two recent examples on a sports front.
      My son plays for one of the premier academys of football (soccer) in Colombia and he scores goals and we have one video where he scoots around about 4 players and gets smashed by a defender, but he got the ball away which if I remember correctly assisted a goal for his side.
      His coach reprimanded him for not having passed it earlier. Yesterday, Jesus Mateo (my son) scored a goal doing a volley shot (one of the toughest to do); the only goal for the team. I asked my son if his coach told him – ‘well done’. My son told me he said nothing to him.
      But I have no problem in any of that. Extreme top – down bullying is different like what the protagonist receives in Whiplash.

      • Reely Bernie says:

        A “fine line” indeed. “Motivator” and “Abuser” can also be replaced by “wall” because I feel like both – when used ad nauseam – produce nothing but looking at a wall than a leader. So cool about your son’s soccer career. As a delicate doily musician, I don’t think I could last a second of a coach’s reprimand, haha!

      • I have seen the professional coach enough that I respect him and he has their best interests at heart but expects ‘their very best!’ and to follow his instructions. And the kids play for him and their uniform. It’s like ‘the real deal’ of coaching which I never saw in Australian coaching of soccer.
        In this day and age, that style of coaching by him and his obvious expertise especially in the western world would be called out as ‘abuse’, which of course it isn’t. One of the very few perks about living in Colombia haha.

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