Whiplash

By Sunil Kumar

On a sultry day; I find myself in a nondescript multiplex. The movie’s about musical passion; drums played with a ferocity that I’ve rarely seen on screen. “Whiplash” is a story about a hardworking musician and his tyrannical teacher; that does not fail to impress; but was a tad boring and repetitive.

The Gothic Revival building at 151 Avenue B, b...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in The Gothic Revival building at 151 Avenue B, between East 9th and 10th Streets across from Tompkins Square Park in the Alphabet City area of the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, was built c.1849. From 1950 to 1954, the ground floor was occupied by jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker and his common-law wife, Chan Richardson. The building was designated a NYC landmark in 1999. (Source: Guide to NYC Landmarks (4th ed.)) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been exposed to jazz a little more recently; with the seductive voice of a Russian blonde; and a big band from the former U.S.S.R which was musically engaging.

So; as an Indian; what did I find interesting in this movie? Jazz; with its focus on syncopation and unconventional rhythyms has a certain appeal; that was also visible in 60s and 70s Bollywood music.

“Whiplash” however focuses on the solitary; artistic pursuit; which may lead to anxiety and depression; particularly if it gets obsessive and uncommunicative; and a teacher like Terence Fletcher in the movie; whose ideas of perfection are admirable but overbearing.

Jazz 101 is a tryst with Americana; already beamed down to my subconscious via a million channels. The teacher’s abusive behavior is laughable; but would be serious if you meet a person like this in real life; the director having based this on his own experiences in some Princeton music school.

I would be happy if Bollywood came up with more songs; that sounded more sensual and evocative. Whiplash however assumes a certain familiarity with big band culture; jazz; and musical figures such as Charlie Parker; Herbie Hancock; drummers et al.

It gets sad when the drummer is confronted with the bleakness of it all; and Terence Fletcher’s consistent nastiness. The name “Whiplash” is a reference to an unusual time signature used by Hank Levy; an American jazz composer and saxophonist.

This is a method used to add novelty and engagement in songs; in comparison to a standard big band arrangement using normal time signatures.

Most arrangements have a theme( a melody); a set of variations that feature one or more of the instrument sections(trombones, trumpet, sax) and improvised solos before coming back to the main theme again.

Abuse of power is what we see in this film; but it’s also a partial introduction into an intense world; fueled by the student’s powerful desires. Humiliated at every stage by the teacher (J.K Simmons as Terence Fletcher); Miles Teller(Andrew Neiman) comes up with an inspired jazz solo to end the movie on a slightly awkward note. The movie could have been better if it gave us more dollops of sensuality; and a little more chutzpah in terms of drama. All in all; semi-fun on a normal day. More later!

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