is a big band director who out Buddy Riches Buddy Rich. While Rich’s band
members always contended the famous drummer’s profane bark was worse than his
bite, Fletcher is a dread terror with a baton.
One freshman drummer learns this the hard way in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, which screens as part of
Shorts program 3 at the 51st New York Film Festival.
is Andrew Neiman’s first day with the jazz orchestra of an elite
conservatory. He will do newby stuff
like tuning the kit and turning pages, but he will also get a turn with the
sticks. It will be a real trial by fire.
Before he even gets his shot, Neiman will witness one band-member
getting the public ax. The choice of
tune will not do him any favors either.
It will be Hank Levy’s “Whiplash” (which Don Ellis recorded on his Soaring album). An arranger and composer for the Ellis and
Stan Kenton big bands, Levy often experimented with odd time signatures, while
delivering the big sounds those leaders were known for. Good luck, kid.
though the portrait of Rich hanging above him would seem to signify good luck,
Neiman is in for it. However, Whiplash has
already had considerable good fortune.
An expanded feature film version is proceeding on track after it won the
short film jury award at this year’s Sundance. While high profile executive producers
like Jason Reitman and Jason “Insidious”
Blum did not hurt, its real trump card is the jaw-dropping work of J.K.
from jillions of supporting parts (including J. Jonah Jameson in the Spiderman franchise), Simmons calls and
raises both Buddy Rich and former Drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermy. As Fletcher, he is certainly intimidating,
but also disturbingly manipulative. Yet, viewers cannot write him off
completely, because there is very clearly a passion for the music burning
within him. Regardless of what you make
of the character, it is a tour de force performance from Simmons.
late Hank Levy also deserves credit for helping Whiplash the movie work.
Even (or especially) to a non-musician, his composition sounds hard to
play and the chart looks impossible.
Yet, the Hank Levy Legacy Band still swings it hard for the film’s
turned filmmaker Chazelle is clearly intimately acquainted with this
world. His stylish feature debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench also
employed jazz, while shrewdly examining the private lives of musicians. He also
co-wrote the screenplay for The Last
Exorcism Part II, so there’s range for you.
The eighteen minute Whiplash might feel like a brief episode in a longer story (because
it more or less is), but it is an encounter that will resonate deeply for many
former music students (and they have our sympathies). However, everyone should be able to
appreciate Simmons’ virtuoso turn and anyone with open ears can dig the use of
the title tune. Highly recommended in
its short film form, Whiplash screens
this Thursday (10/10) at the Howard Gilman Theater, as part of the 2013 NYFF’s
Shorts Program 3.
Labels: Damien Chazelle, Hank Levy, NYFF '13, Short Films