sexta-feira, dezembro 12, 2014

Whiplash (2014)


 

I was fortunate enough to see a pre-screening for the movie Whiplash (2014) last night and I have to say:  I loved it! Absolutely loved it! I mean, what a ride!

As I anxiously tapped my hands in my legs and knees, trying to emulate some jazz percussion that was still lingering in my head, I became more and more desperate to get home so I could write about the film. But the thing is… I wanted to write more than just saying how good it was. I wanted to write about all the feelings that had stirred up in my mind and in my heart during and after the screening.

First and foremost, I must warn you. I’m a massive Jazz lover! I was raised in a Jazz family and therefore, I can easily be considered bias. That said, I sort of feel like I’m able to have a bigger appreciation for what this movie is all about. And make no mistake… by saying this, I’m not giving my take on how this movie depicts the jazz industry (in this case education system). No. Far from it! In between various things I want to say how I loved everything from a cinematic point of view, but also having in mind the brilliant soundtrack made of great classical standards such as Duke Ellington’s Caravan that just filled my heart and made me think: "I am really grateful for having two parents who raised me under the best musical genre of all time". There is nothing that can ever reach the level of quality, creativity and wild genius which jazz possesses. And hey, I’m not a fanatic! Honest! I consider myself quite the eclectic guy. In fact, I listen to other musical genres, some of which probably even more than jazz… but that doesn’t take it away from how much I appreciate each note written in a Jazz music sheet.

So, let us begin…

(... and five, six, seven, eight)


The name of this movie, Whiplash – taken from a tune written by Hank Levy – can also be a reference to how Terence Fletcher (played by J.K Simmons) scars his students. His methods are far too brutal, bringing up to mind how Gunnery Sergeant Hartman undermined his troops in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). Fletcher, the intimidating maestro, believes that in order to achieve greatness, people need to be pushed beyond their limits, doing whatever it takes to get his pupils to that an elite level. If you break on his watch, even if just for a moment, he will show no patience, no love, no mercy.

 
We discover this by following Andrew Neiman, a 19-year-old drummer who seeks to be the next “Charlie Parker”, or in his case, the new Buddy Rich. During the 106 minutes in which the story unfolds, we witness a real endurance test being applied to the young boy, hoping that he does not fall into despair and that he can overcome the tyranny of his orchestra leader. 
It is just brilliant to see the level in which their relationship develop and massive praise must be given to the young and talented Miles Teller - who I’ve became a fan since watching the indie-production The Spectacular Now (2013) – and to J.K Simmons, who will undoubtedly be up for an Oscar nomination, that can very well translate into a win. The veteran actor is just superb.

Congratulatios are also in order to Damien Chazelle (a jazz aficionado), the man behind the script and direction of this wonderful motion picture.

Chazelle wrote an 85-page script, but then adapted it to 15 pages in order to make Whiplash a short movie, so that he could attract someone to invest. After debuting at the Sundance festival, he was approached right away by several investors who financed the long version. Among those same investors is Jason Reitman, the director behind movies such as Thank You For Smoking (2005), Juno (2007), Up In The Air (2009) and most recently Men, Women & Children (2014).

The young Damien got going, working with some of the crew involved in the original showpiece, including Mr. Simmons. The 59-year-old veteran, who at the moment I’m watching on a weekly basis with his terrific performance as Vernon Schillinger in the HBO cult classic series Oz (1997 - 2003), was a smart decision that obviously paid off, as he is probably the best thing out of the Jazz themed film. But rest assured, there is plenty more in Whiplash to make it worthy of various accolades, even if it wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe.

That could almost be a standalone post, but I'm learning with time that such discussion is almost not worth it. I believe people’s perception about the Globes and the Oscars has been changing quite a lot through the years. They’ve lost all sense of credibility and therefore, is not shock to see terrific movies such as Whiplash being left out of nominations. Thankfully, word of mouth (especially nowadays with social media) is enough to get these names across the world and attract people to the movie theaters.

Anyway… back to the film!

Chazelle is also a maestro on his own… showing promising leadership “on stage”. His new masterpiece is beautifully shot and it reveals great taste in various sequences / scenes that kept the rhythm fluid.


Through Fletcher, our emotions as a viewer are constantly manipulated, like Andrew’s… 
It is by giving yourself to its narrative and characters that you feel the moments of joy and pain, almost like you are part of the story. I think the director accomplished that by leaving the audience engaged with every single action.

Another great element here, which I have briefly mentioned - is the soundtrack. It’s just the icing on the cake. I mean, what would you expect? When you get to hear some of the greatest musicians, either play in the background or set the stage for a prominent scene, you know what the results are going to be. 



 

I really do hope that the music leaves a mark on people, bringing them closer to Jazz. That each viewer gets home and learns about Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and John Coltrane. Or listen to more contemporary (but faithful to its principal) takes.  

People often say: “Jazz is dying”. I do see why people would say that… but I don’t really agree with Fletcher’s view on it. He believes the art form is vanishing because of musicians who don’t push themselves enough… thus not creating new “legends” that can continue carrying the legacy set by some of the greats.
It is my opinion that more and more people don’t really get to hear the music that often. For one, it needs to be something that you are brought into, as it can be hard for some to grasp. On the other hand, and completely contradicting myself, it is also the music of the people, accessible for all depending on how free your spirit is. The other issue with the decaying genre is how society has developed with its musical taste and demands. Everything now needs to be pop influenced. A lot of musicians claim to be jazz players, but in reality they are a shallow, soulless product that used the great history and intellect behind “JAZZ” to sell their work to a wider audience. Michael Buble and Jamie Cullum, of whom I’m a fan of, can be seen as part of their group of people

But let me set you a better example in which I will make clear reference to two festivals in Portugal: “Cool Jazz Fest” and “Estoril Jazz”.

Estoril Jazz is the longest running jazz festival in the country. It has attracted larges audiences to watch great musicians such as Miles Davis, Keith Jarret, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and so on… That same festival which was very popular during the 80’s and 90’s is now struggling. Why you ask? Because they are no longer providing the sort of music that people demand. Because people are not interested in the old school, vanguard Jazz. They want catchy tunes, stage dancers, cool videos… the kind of thing that big pop names deliver.

Then you have "Cool Jazz Fest". I don't get why the fest is called like that. It just feels awkward and silly when you call yourself a jazz festival, but have no jazz names featured in your lineup and instead present Sting and Seal… fantastic artists, but again, not jazz related. People don’t care though… They will easy pay 50 euros to attend that gig, but not spend 20 to watch a lesser known musician at the "Estoril Jazz" festival or in Guimarães. They won’t even do a quick (and cheap) trip to some of our finest Jazz clubs like Hot Club in Lisbon or Cascais Jazz Club. 

Because they are not simply into Jazz, despite their claims of going to a Jazz concert. 

(Calming down) 

Apologies for the rant.

All and all, Whiplash is the sort of movie that I would gladly watch it again in the near future. Not only because it’s that good, but also because it would provide me with an excellent opportunity to make sure others would watch it and get to know the art behind the cinema experience and the music. It is a masterpiece that is neither rushing nor dragging. 

 Its tempo is just impeccable.
 


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