Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Movie Review - "Whiplash" (2014) - Does He Want Jazz Music Or Spider-Man?
One of the most unappreciated factor of filmmaking is editing. The process of putting two different shots of film together sounds like a simple enough process, but editing requires you to piece the movie so that it is competent, logical and maintain continuity, tone and atmosphere.
If you mess up on editing, then the film falls apart.
The worst part about being the editor is that, even if you do a great job, no one will notice how great you really are. People may talk about how stunning a movie is or how well it was shot, but rarely is editing brought up. Because great editing is seamless and does not draw attention to itself.
Perhaps this is why I enjoyed "Whiplash" as much as I did. Throughout the film, there is a constant tone of unease, cynicism and hate. But then there are moments where the music is the only point of a scene, or preparing to play music, and suddenly the film looks and feels like a grand opera, accomplished through the cinematography and editing.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a nineteen-year old who has enrolled in one of the greatest musical colleges in the country, Shaffer Conservatory, and intends to become the most accomplished drummer of the 21st Century. It seems like Neyman will get his chance, when the foreboding head teacher of the school, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), approaches him about joining his jazz band class and compete in their competitions. But Fletcher works Neyman to point of throwing chairs at him and drumming until his hands bleed.
The atmosphere of "Whiplash" seems to say that people are terrible, but the music they can produce is wonderful. Neyman is a cynic, who only enjoys playing the drums and will fight anyone who says that his pursuit is not worth while. He only sees the bad in other people, like a college quarterback who brags about his accomplishments, only for Neyman to point out that he is only in Division III. This might explain why he has no friends.
Fletcher is an angry man who will berate his own students in front of the entire class. He will make them scream that they are upset, call them school-yard bully names and make everyone stay five hours after class until one drummer gets his pitch and timing just right.
But, in both of their eyes, this attitude and view on the world is all worth it, because of the music that it leads to. Neyman consistently impresses his colleagues and at competitions, leading him to earn the respect of his teacher. Fletcher believes that by insulting his students, he is pushing them to their absolute best and do the things that even they didn't think were possible. As a result, we get some of the greatest musicians that the world has ever seen.
The question though becomes just how far can a teacher push his students? Is there a limit to that?
To amplify the power of music in "Whiplash," we get several quiet and laid back scenes of the jazz band preparing to go on stage. Their instruments and properly tuned, their large cases stored away, the sheet music is propped up, and very little conversing is done. In these scenes, little to no dialogue is spoken, but so much is accomplished.
We see the inner workings of a jazz band, how each instrument plays its part, like a finely tuned machine. If just one hair is out-of-place, or in this case drum, then the audience will never forget how awful the piece was. But when everything works out perfectly and the tune is a joy to the ear buds, then it is just as powerful as any book or painting.
I know very little about music, so much of the terminology and basic lingo of that culture was lost on me. That was a surprising amount of dialogue in "Whiplash" so it is strange that I was able to understand so much. The music is not explained, but rather shown to us in all of its glory.
When I was not being entertained by the rivalry between Neyman and Fletcher, the cinematography and editing of the jazz bands performances was certainly a good substitute.
Overall, "Whiplash" was a strange look at how far one is willing to go to achieve their dreams, and the people who push them to get there. It is not always a pleasant route, but for some, the praise and admiration is worth it. The film runs a bit long near the end, but it is worth it to see that final band performance and watch the teacher-student relationship reach its climax.
Final Grade: B+