Although it seems they are synonymous with found-footage horror, low budget movies that will still be financial successes if audiences stop turning out in droves to see them, Blumhouse Productions are arguably something far more interesting. Their prolific output can easily be read as an updating of Roger Corman’s low budget exploitation aesthetic for the 21st century, albeit one that reflects pop culture’s increasingly low standards when it comes to genre filmmaking.
Originally birthed as an 18-minute short, premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Whiplash went on to garner enough attention to become a feature full-length film. Thank God it did. The feature-length version of Whiplash masterfully showcases the pressures of perfection in a tightly plotted, beautifully shot, soberly performed package. From the creative genius of sophomore director Damien Chazelle comes a semi-autobiographical experience just as exhilarating as it is shocking. Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a promising young drummer who enrolls at an elite music conservatory, where his dreams of greatness are mentored by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a ruthless music conductor who will stop at nothing to realize his student’s potential talent. With the audience on the edge of their seats, the question constantly being taunted is thus: how far is too far for pushing a student towards greatness?
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, now conquering New York after wowing audiences at film festivals all the way back to Sundance last winter, opens with a title card over black while a few taps on a snare drum build into a furious drum roll. It’s a fine way to symbolize the conflict at the center of the film, which accelerates to “furious” so quickly and easily that it’s barely perceptible. Tension builds slowly in an empathic crescendo, before snapping over and over again like the repeated pounding of a cymbal. Whatever arguments this film may inspire, it’s clear that there is no other film in existence which makes music so thrilling.
What began as a short film seeking funding at last year’s Sundance has come to fruition as one of 2014’s best films. A must-see at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Damien Chazelle’s magnificent Whiplash offers stellar performances and a powerful, morally ambiguous plot. It concerns young Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is in his first year at the top music institution in the country. Picked for one of the school’s most competitive bands by its relentless conductor, Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), Andrew finds himself desperately fighting to prove his worth.
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash centers on a young drummer at a prestigious Manhattan music academy who finds a caustic instructor willing to do anything to urge him toward greatness. This may sound like the beginning of a sentimental, feel-good movie in which encouragement and perseverance win out. But Chazelle’s character study isn’t in the least bit evocative of Mr. Holland’s Opus or Stand and Deliver. Instead, the unrelenting verbal abuse heaped on the student vacillates between hilarious and needlessly demeaning. The ceaseless degradation creates a gray area of quasi-fulfillment where the cinematic rewards are anything but pure. Whiplash keeps the audience on its toes, never letting you think for a moment that the road to artistic success is easy or that one’s competition isn’t eagerly awaiting your total failure for their gain.