TODAY’S LOSER FILM REVIEW: WHIPLASH


I had to be nice last night and watch a Hollywood pitcher. Hollywood pitchers are fine when they don’t pretend to be Brooklyn pitchers, Greenwich Village pitchers, Upper East Side pitchers — in which you get about a minute’s worth of Big Apple nightlife (second unit footage that rips off James Wong Howe’s knuckle-scraping camera angles for Sweet Smell of Success), while the other 98% is shot on a Burbank soundstage so browned-out you can barely read the charts, let alone the IATSE Motion Picture Division paperwork stapled to every stick of furniture.

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Can someone please explain to me why this is a good movie? Yes, I realize that I’m arriving very late to the Whiplash backlash, spear-headed by critic Richard Brody, whose main beef seems to be about musicological authenticity. To me the picture appears to have been written, acted, and directed by the kind of people — and there were lots and lots evidently — who failed to grasp that Sonny Rollins’s Jazz piece in the New Yorker last year was satire:

“Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with. The band starts a song, but then everything falls apart and the musicians just play whatever they want for as long they can stand it. People take turns noodling around, and once they run out of ideas and have to stop, the audience claps.”

There’s a weird message that pitchers like this one keep pushing. It’s that art comes from suffering; that at best it’s a kind of psychopathology. Obviously almost every humdrum thing we do in our lives — making coffee, fertilizing our tomato plants, walking the miniature Schnauzer — bears some trace of loss and self-loathing. And almost everything we do particularly well — driving an F1 car, reenacting the Battle of Waterloo, shaving zest from a lemon rind — will involve a certain level of obsessive-compulsive behavior. As will jazz drumming. As will teaching jazz drumming.

And your point is?


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