Whiplash (Dir. Damien Chazelle) (2014)
The Varnished Culture was rather taken aback at this over-the-top mix of The Boys in Company C and Pitch Perfect, with a pinch of Shine thrown in. The smashed drum kits, the hurled chairs, the bellowed (and bizarre) insults, the bleeding drumsticks, the spurned scores, the sweating cymbals frisbee’d about! The terrible formless music that we must remind ourselves is radical, innovative and improvised, the American art-form. So what if it turns its leading practitioners into surly, paranoid druggies? So what if the music school that is ‘The Shaffer Conservatory’ operates like a boot camp for draftees?
To solve our confusion, we got out the Ouija board to consult our favourite jazz expert, ‘Scratchy’ Impasto.
‘Scratchy’ confused us further, initially, by replying in Latin, but eventually, with the help of some old Gene Krupa records, we got his drift:
Q: ‘Hey ‘Scratchy’, whaddya think of the jazz piece, ‘Whiplash’ by Hank Levy?’
Q: ‘In the film, J. K. Simmons plays a jazz musician, conductor and teacher who brutalises…’
A: ‘Conductor? A Jazz conductor?’
Q: ”Scratchy,’ we’re asking the questions. Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher, yells and hollers and slaps and threatens newbie Andrew Nieman (Miles Teller), alternately praising, damning and generally humiliating him and fostering a lethal sense of competition between aspiring tyros who want to be Buddy Rich…’
A: ‘Who’s Buddy Rich?’
Q: ‘You’re kidding.’
A: ‘About what?’
Q: ‘Some say he was one of the great drummers…’
A: ‘That’s horse dung.’
Q: ‘Anyway, the theme is that possible greats have to be driven remorselessly to elicit their true potential. And treated to brutal honesty rather than euphemisms such as ‘good job.’ Like Jo Jones hurling a cymbal at Charlie Parker when he lost the thread…’
A: ‘That didn’t happen.’
Q: ‘How do you know?’
A: ‘I was there as a 13 year old bus boy. Charlie wandered off tempo and Jo chucked a cymbal on the floor, not at Bird.’
Q: ‘Well, a film can exaggerate to make a point.’
A: ‘But not the wrong point. No one screams like Georg Solti in Jazz, we’re all too busy getting on the junk and blowin’ in the wind. There’s just no need for the kind of animal cruelty displayed in the story you’re talking about.’
Q: ‘What about drumming super-fast after getting hit by a truck and running, all bloody, to the Hall? That ever happen to you?’
A: ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
Q: ‘I must say, the more we saw bleedin’ fingers Nieman in the film, attacking the teacher, ratting on him, ignoring his Dad, being shabby to his girlfriend, and churlish with fellow musicians, the less we gave a toss about him, even if he could drum a bit. Although the actors playing these creeps were pretty good.’
A: ‘I know what you mean. When I was working on my Playin’ Craps record, I…’ (we packed-up the board at this point).
So there you have it. We thought that the whole melange simply didn’t ring true. We thought that, despite the accolades, the sound mixing was appalling, going from a whisper to a scream. We thought it was well-made but overheated nonsense. We thought it was a boot-camp movie posing as jazz. But what do we know? It took ‘Scratchy’ Impasto to prove us right.