It’s been eight months since I first saw Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash so I figured I’d give it another go this morning at the New York Film Festival. It’s just as gripping and screwed-down and possessed as ever. It certainly contains Miles Teller‘s best performance so far. I’ve noted previously that J.K. Simmons‘ performance as a psychotic musical instructor, a manic loon in the tradition of R. Lee Ermey‘s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, is 100% baity. (In my book the Best Supporting Actor race is Simmons vs. Birdman‘s Edward Norton.) Chazelle’s reported decision to make a biopic about Apollo astronaut and first-man-on-the-moon Neil Armstrong is perplexing, but he’s clearly a top-tier talent.
Moderator Amy Taubin, star J.K. Simmons during noontime New York Film Festival press conference following 10 am screening of Whiplash.
Simmons, Whiplash director Damien Chazelle.
The Sony Pictures Classics release will open on October 10th.
The plot basics are contained in my original review, but boiled down Teller plays a gifted, super-ambitious drummer at a Julliard-type music school who’s being taught, goaded and terrorized by Simmons, who’s gifted in his own realm as well as a bit of a sociopath. I was all ready and rarin’ to go again this morning but to my surprise I discovered some issues that didn’t surface last January.
Issue #1: Teller is chosen by Simmons to be a part of his special band — a huge honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He’s told to be at practice at 6 am, and let me tell you that if I’d been in Teller’s shoes I would set at least three alarms to make sure I wouldn’t be late. How could anyone in Teller’s shoes possibly sleep late? Teller manages it nonetheless, waking up at 6:03 am….insane. I just didn’t believe it.
Issue #2: Too many shots of blood on the skins. Being an ex-drummer I know what it’s like when your palms and fingers go red and raw from playing too hard, and how you have to put bandages on to keep playing. But I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone’s hands gushing blood from drumstick use, certainly not to the extent that crimson drops of the stuff stain the snare drum and cymbals…no way.
Issue #3: There are two scenes in which Simmons screams at Teller for playing at the wrong tempo….too slow, too fast. Musical geniuses have ears that can sense a slightly-too-slow or slight-too-fast tempo, but I couldn’t hear what was wrong, and so these scenes don’t really work except to indicate that Simmons is cruel and possibly demented.
Issue #4: It wasn’t my idea but I suspect that “I’m going to fuck you like a pig” is going to be the line that everyone repeats when they talk about Whiplash in cafes and bars. Simmons says this to Teller during one of his many, many harangues. The phrase means “I’m going to brutally fuck you up and otherwise make your life hell” but the source of the image (a man being bent over a log and fucked in the ass until he squeals like a pig) comes from a highly respected 1972 John Boorman film. Had it not been for that film, I strongly suspect that Simmons would have used another figure of speech.