Whiplash - when themes overshadow tunes
It was exactly how I thought it would be which I'm afraid means I didn't like it. I get it, I do. It's supposed to be a film about dedication and drive, about passion, persuasion and the pursuit of excellence all set against the back drop of music and specifically jazz.
The thing is, in doing so it totally ignores the the greatest attributes that bind and foster all of these things which are absolutely inherent in the musical process. Those being, creativity, cohesion, collaboration and plain and simple joy.
None of these were present in the movie and my feeling is that as a result it does a lot of harm to the casual viewer on what music and specifically it's learning and application to those performing it, can really do for someone.
Sure, none of these more positive aspects sit easily with a story about bullying or withstanding emotional pressure but the world in which the story is set should in my view be representative of the real world situation and in this case it simply bares no relation to the way musicians actually deal with each other.
I'm not talking about technical failings, you expect those. It's the same for sport movies where actors supposedly playing the sport in question never really look like their doing it professionally (or even competently in some cases) on film. No, this is an issue of the themes themselves.
There are lots of examples of films that have taken on similar aspects and treated them much more intelligently and thought provokingly than Whiplash:
- the trappings of youthful excellence and ostracism. The Social Network
- overriding compulsive passion: The Prestige
- single minded dedication/obsession: Zodiac/The Conversation
- cut throat competition within the arts: Black Swan
- even the struggle of a life in music education: Mr Holland's Opus
Some readers I'm sure will point to Black Swan as equally being a fantastical view of the ballet but in that movie that was the point. It was all played out within the lead's own mind and served to demonstrate her own neuroses and insecurities.
Sadly, for me, Whiplash just took too many liberties with something that is very dear to me. The collective spirit that goes with music making is such a wonderful, embracing, nurturing, uplifting, inclusive, enriching and joyful thing that I found leaving any of these aspects out as completely as it did to be a great shame indeed.
Coda - If you want to watch movies that give you a real insight into what it's like being a musician or in a band or that wow you with immense talent then I would say to take your pick from these instead: Anvil (being in a band), Once (passion for music), Frank the first half of it at least (also, being in a band) or 20 Feet From Stardom (talent).
And for an incredible jazz/solo drum scores in film you need look no further than Birdman (ironic that it's out at the same time) or Three Kings. Both brilliant.