One of Whiplash’s strengths rests in the sheer physicality of the performance of actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. The story of a highly ambitious young drummer (Teller) who takes his sanity to the limits while learning from an abusive jazz instructor (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash should be a favorite come awards season time, and the feature also marks the arrival of promising filmmaker Damien Chazelle.
Whiplash maintains its fever pitch throughout its 106 minutes, and the final chapter, which features a showdown between the drummer and his mentor, is a sight to behold. “We don’t think of instruments as physical,” said Chazelle, whose story was inspired by his own experience as part of a high school jazz orchestra. “We think of dance as physical. We think of sports as physical. (With) music, we don’t. But trumpeters screw their lips up, violinists screw their backs up, and drummers screw their hands up.”
Although Terence Fletcher (Simmons) is a teacher who crosses the line with his students, there is a perverse method to his madness. Certain musicians thrive under pressure and may actually flourish under abusive tactics, and it’s an issue that Chazelle addresses in the narrative:
“I had teacher like (Terence Fletcher) and it made me a better drummer. But as a humanist I can’t condone what he does – and I wanted to make the character as monstrous as possible so that it’s hard to condone what he does. It’s undeniable that it’s a big part of jazz and music history – this kind of streak of tyranny leading to great musicianship.”
Whiplash captures the pulse and rhythm of New York, but most of the production was shot in downtown Los Angeles. During the press conference, Chazelle explains why, even with tax credits available in the Big Apple, he shot Whiplash in the City of Angels.
Whiplash is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.