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October 24, 2014


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Clayton Sutherland

Given how insanely knowledgable you seem to be about countless genres of music, Glenn, I figure you'll probably be more critical of Whiplash than most moviegoers and critics.

But it's coming from a place of insight, so I certainly wouldn't disregard your position.

I'm curious to see where I'll fall on it, when I eventually get around to seeing it. I might just enjoy the performances (actor-wise), and not be too fussed over the contrivances of the premise. Who knows.


I haven't seen Birdman yet, but the reaction to Lindsay Duncan's critic character in reviews I've read is bizarre. I've read more than one that say flat out that the idea that a critic might go into something they're reviewing with their mind already made up is completely absurd. I really don't know how anyone can really assert that. I have nothing but respect for critics and the work they do, but at the same time, why is it so hard to imagine some might not be fair or honest all the time? As someone who considers themselves pretty liberal, I've got no problem accepting that journalists who cover the news and especially politics for a living can often be predisposed to hate on a politician or spin a current event in a way that confirms with their POV. Hell, there's an entire industry on the left and the right dedicated to pointing that out wherever it may be, and let's face it, that shit is out there. So why are critics getting so riled up about a movie showing a critic doing something similar? I can definitely think of a couple of critics who have it in their head about a certain kind of way a movie is "supposed" to be be and that I can counted on to champion those films, filmmakers and actors over others that make movies the "wrong" way. I'll need to see Birdman for myself, but I get the feeling the stuff with Duncan might have something to do with that.

As for people's beef with Dargis, that I don't get. I've always loved her reviews, and she seems to have as much an appetite for pop as she does for meatier fare. And the directors she's championed over the years, Fincher, Nolan, Mann, are definitely ones very comfortable working in the mainstream.


I'm not surprised to read this: "...at the end, Whiplash goes far enough so as to achieve it." When I heard the premise of the film, Simmons' character sounded like a caricature of the "tough teacher" character type and didn't strike me as a likely feature of the jazz education world. It's a pity they wasted Simmons' talent on a story that doesn't remotely ring true.

Don Lewis

Gotta say, I totally disagree with Glenn and Richard Brody on the WHIPLASH reviews. I'm somewhat educated in jazz (I listen to it frequently on a local radio show here and had a great undergrad class on it) but am by no means an expert. I found that aspect of it (ie; me not knowing ALL the finer points) really added to my experience because I felt lost, as did Andrew whenever Fletcher was breathing down his neck. Was he dragging or rushing? I had no clue and not knowing added to the tension of those scenes. Was he doing CARAVAN correctly? I had no idea and that feeling made me feel tapped into Andrew who never really seemed to know where he stands either.

I mean, I GET why huge jazz fans could be put off by the lack of jazz education on display but that hardly seems to really matter both in terms of if the themes are allegorical or not. To dismiss the film because Andrew idolizes Buddy Rich, as Richard Brody does, really seems to miss the point of an intense, extremely entertaining and well rounded film.

Thomas Fuchs

I had the complete opposite response to these two movies (Birdman felt as aggressively lacking in substance as the movies it's mocking, whereas Whiplash proved utterly immersive), but I appreciate this perspective a lot. Great work, Glenn!

Kalen Egan

I thought it was fairly obvious that Fletcher's methods are, essentially, psychotic... Chazelle is telling a story, and I think the premise of the story is that this teacher has pathologically fixed ideas about music, perfection, greatness, etc., which he uses as a pretext to abuse a constantly rotating classroom full of students. That he honestly believes he's doing so in order to find (or create) a world-class player is his issue, not the film's. That Miles Teller's character falls for it so much that he actually becomes the thing-- at least for a minute there, right at the end-- that JK Simmons has been telling himself was possible, is either tragic or extraordinary, depending on how you want to interpret it for yourself.

So I really don't get how people are watching this movie and reading it as a general statement about jazz, or even competition. I think it's pretty clearly about two people, at different points in their lives, who find a kind of sick-but-perfect symbiotic relationship. It's almost Cronenbergian. There's so much to think about in terms of what kind of a man the JK Simmons character must actually be in order to do what he does, and how of course his perfect prey would be the young and idealistic, who haven't yet developed any sense of nuance about the world...

Anyway, I found the movie crazily engrossing on these levels, and an amazing display of directing and acting virtuosity on top of that, and never once thought I was supposed to be taking away a message about how real life jazz music works.



"The cheapening of independent film"

Instead of releasing indie films to theaters, the Weinsteins are now giving them away for free. Glad BIRDMAN and WHIPLASH got theatrical releases. A year from now, who knows?


"I thought it was fairly obvious that Fletcher's methods are, essentially, psychotic... Chazelle is telling a story, and I think the premise of the story is that this teacher has pathologically fixed ideas about music, perfection, greatness, etc., which he uses as a pretext to abuse a constantly rotating classroom full of students. That he honestly believes he's doing so in order to find (or create) a world-class player is his issue, not the film's."

Perhaps. Is the world of "Whiplash" an invented world, and transparently so? Or is the setting more or less meant to reflect "real life?" If it's the latter, then these jazz-related details matter to the extent that getting them wrong undermines the credibility of the story. One would have to assume it's meant to reflect real life because the film references real people (Buddy Rich!) and a song standard (Caravan). More importantly, one presumes that the viewer is meant to take what transpires seriously.

It's a fair point that most people won't notice the mis-steps like a serious jazz musician idolizing Buddy Rich, or won't know that solitary study isn't the way jazz musicians typically develop and improve. But if that's true, then most people wouldn't notice if Jo Jones or Art Blakey were instead the idols, and they'd accept a reality where musicians study and learn collectively at least some of the time. The same story could be told but with an authenticity that buttresses the film for those who are informed on this subject instead of undermining it for them. Citing Buddy Rich as a pinnacle of jazz artistry strikes me as either 1) lazy, or 2) monumentally uninformed, which is more or less the same as 1.


Late on this, but just saw the film. I think it has its share of issues, but I don't think the film really presents or endorses the idea that jazz musicians don't practice with each other. It seems pretty clear that the movie is about a very isolated individual, who is from the start is having a rough transition into the social and academic life of higher education. The early scenes are not subtle about this (other players' pre-rehearsal small talk/shit talk amplified on the soundtrack, Teller avoiding the party next door to sit alone in his room, Teller longingly observing a romantic embrace before rehearsal, etc.). Heck, there's even a clunky piece of dialogue where Teller is asked point blank if he has any friends.

I don't think there's much evidence that the other musicians aren't engaging in different forms of practice and study. We don't follow his peers at all; from the start we're following someone who is substantially disconnected from his fellow musicians. It seems pretty central to the film that this makes the Teller character more vulnerable to his mentor's ideology (and abuse).

Yeah, some of the jazz details took me out of the movie (particularly when the Simmons character namedrops Buddy Rich, which is a lot less explicable than a 18-year-old student doing so). But ultimately I tend to agree with Karol Egan's assessment above.


Today's weird cinema news, from the Associated Press:

Sober directors fears he won’t make more films

Provocative Danish director Lars von Trier says he fears he won’t make any more movies since sobering up, because his award-winning films were made while intoxicated.

In his first interview in three years, von Trier told Saturday’s edition of Danish daily Politiken that he no longer drinks a bottle of vodka a day or takes “narcotics” that had helped him enter “a parallel world.”

Because of sobering up, von Trier says: “I don’t know whether I can make more films. And that haunts me.”

In 2011, the director of “Nymphomaniac” and “Breaking the Waves” was ejected from the Cannes Film Festival after expressing sympathy with Adolf Hitler. He later said he had been joking, and said he would no longer speak in public.

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