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Whiplash is not subtle, it is probably not important, it may not even be credible or consistent – but it is a hell of a lot of fun, it is a ride! It made me remember that old concept about art: I may not care about the love life of Eskimos, but I am still happy to hear a good story about said love life. Same thing about Jazz: I happily appreciate that it is very difficult to learn and that at least those who perform are very happy about it. Beyond that I try myself in tolerance and physical distance. I would not seek out anything Jazz-related when feeling the urge to be entertained, but it certainly has its characters and its stories to tell. Yet oddly enough, one of my favourite films is about Charlie Parker, and I remember that I was thinking how terrible that music is and why the guy was wasting his talent on it instead of playing some proper music (just kidding… not quite like that… but a bit like that).

And here again: after reading some reviews I decided this was actually the only film in all that Oscar hype season that I really really wanted to see. Professional musicians is something I can relate to, and evil teachers is something everybody can relate to. Shattered dreams, family conflicts… there are too many things that sounded thrilling about Whiplash. And really, it was a thrilling picture! The whole works: the underdog kid stumbling into an opportunity to shine, the face-off with the Jazz orchestra band leader and conductor who has been forged from particles of the Full Metal Jacket drill instructor and the odd nutjob American football coach cliché. And despite his madness, as all good villains, he has his point in arguing that if anybody had ever told Carlie Parker that his play was all right, good enough, if Parker had ever stopped despairing about his own improvement as a musician… then there would have been no improvement, no Bird. And it comes down to the message that both the film and my real-life experience reflect: very very good musicians, and very very good craftsmen of any sorts, are hardly ever sane. Sane just does not cut it. Sanity makes you accept too many boundaries you hit, allows you to accept average results.

Whiplash is clever in not just being satisfied with showing off this realisation of a young drummer, his path from being eager through being manic about his progress, to the point of surrendering. He has his comeback, and then he has his major and public setback, and then he is fighting back… Someone compared the final scenes with Rocky, and it’s true in more than one aspect. That young guy realises a lot of things, and one key insight is that you can always carry on fighting, there is no need to surrender, whatever the situation looks like.

Even though the mechanism of bringing the film’s characters to wherever plot point they are needed is a bit clunky at times – when these people are in place they pull all stops. Am I dragging or rushing? The film does neither, is usually very much on the spot and in control of its pace. And as this is very much a duel, let’s name the contestants: in the blue corner, the rising star on the drum kit, the naïve and slightly desoriented Miles Teller as Andrew Neyman. And in the red corner, the Master of Manipulation, the Wizard of Wicked, he who draws blood and swallos it when needed, J.K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher. (I have no idea how they managed to teach Miles Teller to play the drums like we can see (or appear to see?) him do, but those drumming scenes alone are fabulous! )

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