Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Whiplash (Movie)


Whiplash is a movie about a weird socially awkward kid who wants to become a great Jazz Drummer, should be a perfect fit.  Most of the movie doesn't really make that much actual sense nor does it have any relation to Jazz, but the kid doesn't get laid throughout the entire movie, so that was pretty accurate as far as the Jazz life goes.  In fact, there aren't any female characters in the entire movie with the sole exception of his girlfriend, who only likes him before he mentions to her that he loves Jazz…and then they break up.

Anyway, the kid is practicing playing fast, since that's all that matters with regards to the drums, and he gets drafted by Fletcher, the asshole band director, to join the Varsity school Jazz band.  I use the term "Varsity," since there's not a single word mentioned about Art or originality throughout the film.  Jazz is treated like a bench-pressing competition.  Fletcher convinces the entire band that playing old corny charts will somehow make you a "Jazz Great", thus once again completely ignoring any thoughts on how literally every "Jazz Great" brought something new to the table.  The one thing I agree with Fletcher on is that the band does suck.  They play shitty high school charts throughout the entire film.  The best part of the big band is that I'm pretty sure most "Jazz Greats" wouldn't have made it in the group.  Charlie Parker would have been thrown out for chirping his reeds, Miles Davis for lack of technical master, Coltrane for questionable tuning and Monk for ..well, just being a weirdo.

The kid does better in the band, gets berated, practices, and eventually scores a big gig with the group.  On the way to the gig he gets in a terrible car accident, is literally covered in blood and still makes the gig…but because he has a concussion(and is covered in blood and glass) he fucks up and then Fletcher makes fun of him.  The kid loses it and attacks Fletcher and thus gets thrown out of the band.  Apparently Fletcher is such a dick that he doesn't care that the kid is literally covered in blood at the gig..somehow that's not a good enough excuse.

So next, the kid testifies (secretly) in court that Fletcher is a dick and so Fletcher gets fired.  Soon after the kid quits the drums and is walking around the streets of NYC when he sees Fletcher playing at a club.  Fletcher is playing the lamest bossa nova I've ever heard in my life at a shitty Jazz club and we realize that THIS is apparently what it is to be a success in Jazz.  THIS is the dream the kid has been chasing.  I think this is the moment that the audience realizes that Fletcher has no idea what it even means to be a great artist, since he's convinced that playing old standards somehow makes you "One of The Greats."

Fletcher talks to the kid about how his being a dick was to bring out the best in the students, then he invites the kid to play at a big Jazz festival.  The kid agrees.  <<cue practice montage>> ..(it's like the training montage from Rocky, only much much lamer.)  The kid shows up to the festival and it's a packed house(they must have bused in the senior citizens.)  One of my favorite lines of the film occurs when Fletcher tells the band before the show that all the important people in Jazz world are in the audience and that this is how Lincoln Center picks new talent.(apparently someone didn't tell him that people get all those gigs from being close friend with people already in the band.  Skip the shed and hit the bar with guys who have the gigs you want.  Also, new talent??  That band has had the same people for the past 20 years!)  

Right before they play Fletcher whispers to the kid that he knows he testified against him and got him fired, then he calls out a song that the kid hasn't ever played before in order to make him look like a dick.  The kid eats shit on the tune and storms off stage, has a quick cry and then comes back to show Fletcher what's up.  He calls off the tune he practiced and plays super duper fast.  Fletcher is surprised and impressed and feels vindicated for his dickhead behavior.  The kid finishes his drum solo and the audience is silent…probably because like most Jazz audiences they have no fucking idea what's going on at all times.  If you're at a Jazz show you just wait for other people to clap and then you clap too.

My biggest take-away is the totally misguided nature illustrated by all the characters in the film.  I suppose the movie inadvertently does a pretty good job at pointing out how little emphasis there is on creativity or originality in Jazz school and how misguided the kid is in thinking copying someone like Buddy Rich will somehow make him one of "The Greats" and help him will become remembered in the Jazz lineage.  Too bad history forgets copy-cats.  I'd say most of all the movie does the best job a portraying a certain futility… and after all, isn't that what Jazz is all about?