Thoughts about ‘Whiplash’

whiplash-poster

“What’s the movie?-”

“Whiplash.” (Wait, what? Is this some action spy movie or?-) “It’s a music movie. Do you like jazz?” (Okay, phew)

“Yeah, I’m cool with jazz.” And so Whiplash started playing and I prepared myself to be inspired as a musician.

Instead, when the movie finished I felt everything but inspired: shocked, confused at the point of the movie, frustrated, impressed, and most importantly wanting to talk to someone about the movie. Because I’ve participated and am still participating in ensemble music and sure, conductors can be mean but seriously?- And what was the point of the movie? Okay, so the kid gets redeemed (sort of) but the audience never gets to see the sparkle and magic that music is.

We get to see Andrew, the main character who’s an aspiring jazz drummer, practice through sweat and blood but we don’t see what got him to start music in the first place. The way we saw Andrew practice his drums was like footage from a sports movie, but even in sports movies we get to see how much the athlete loves his art. We don’t see the sparkle in his eyes as he practices; rather, we see in his eyes something similar to that of a madman. Which, yes, music can make people seem obsessed but still there has to be something that drew us there in the first place.

Sure, parents could have started someone on the path of music but as people age, some burn out or pull away from it as they draw closer to something else. But for the musicians striving to make it their life calling, there is something in them that resonates with music, something that ultimately made them stay to further explore music and try to master it. We don’t really see this in the movie. The movie focused wholly on the competitive edge of music and grossly highlighted it. If I wasn’t in music myself, I’d be terrified of the music field because of this movie. We see no joy from music in the movie; all we see is stress.

Also, Fletcher’s (the conductor) philosophy of ripping down musicians to find his “Charlie Parker” is flawed. (Charlie Parker is a legendary saxophonist) Fletcher seemed way too bent on finding his protege that he didn’t stop to read how his methods were working. True, sometimes it’s good to push people but that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people will crack under harsh criticism, and some will blossom. All in good moderation and according to each person’s unique case.

For example, my brother and I had the same violin teacher in Montreal for a while. She was a strict teacher and made us start from the basics of playing the violin. It was honestly humiliating, but necessary to become a better musician. I learned well under her strict method, but my brother wilted and increasingly lost interest with the violin. That teacher didn’t know how to read how Chris reacted to her methods, she was too determined to straighten him out. It was all for a good end, but was presented poorly to help Chris.

Chris changed to another violin teacher and under Silviu, he had a rekindled interest for music. I also later changed to Silviu as my schedule got too busy to keep up to my other teacher’s regiment. Silviu used different approaches to Chris and I. For Chris, he mainly encouraged him in his music, to keep him playing and enjoying the music. For me, he pushed harder and had more criticism, but only because he knew that I could take it and that I would thrive under his hand.

This is what Fletcher should have done. And for the record, the story he always told about Charlie Parker almost getting decapitated with a cymbal is false. Fletcher always recounted the story about Parker messing up on a solo and Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at his head then kicking him out. After that, Parker withdrew and practiced like a madman until his famous solo a year later, shooting him to stardom.

What really happened was that Jo Jones threw a cymbal down at Parker’s feet when he flubbed his solo. And Parker didn’t lock himself in his room for a year focusing only on his music; he listened to the greats, spent time with his friends, and had an epiphany about music. He also most likely got together with friends to jam and didn’t isolate himself from society.

Perhaps if Fletcher knew this, he wouldn’t focus so much on destroying his musicians and would focus more on building them. Or perhaps the director intentionally chose to twist the story to further milk the image of the driven character striving to become the best. Because everyone loves the success story filled with failure and hours of practicing with blood and tears, don’t they?

Overall, sure this was a well shot movie and the scenes where Andrew practices till his hand bleeds are impressive but not inspiring. If anything, they were scary and made me back away like okay, this kid needs help. I feel that Whiplash could have had a bigger impact if we also got to see how much Andrew liked music (if he did?). The music party is upset about it (obviously). But oh well, the movie is still doing well among the general public.

If you haven’t watched the movie yet, just know that music isn’t all the movie shows. In fact, the movie failed to capture the most important part about music: the magic that it is. The way it lights up people, the way it transforms people, the way it captures people, the way it sparkles in a musician’s eye. Music is so much more than Whiplash gave it credit.

 

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