Mar. 16th, 2017

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Okay, so: Yesterday I went by the HMV superstore at the Yonge-Dundas Square, which is unfortunately closing down, which means that everything in there's been slashed by at least 40%. I was thus able to pick up three BluRays and three DVDs for less than fifty dollars, amongst them Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, which I finished watching On Demand in the late afternoon--I'm really looking forward to being able to watch it again with the commentary on, since it's a shared conversation between writer/director Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons himself that contains this hilarious exchange (paraphrased), which I reblogged on Tumblr:

Chazelle: That sort of...flicker thing you do with your hand when you're conducting, it's kind of...sexual.
Simmons: Oh yeah, some people have definitely told me there's some sort of homoerotic subtext going on there--
Chazelle: Subtext?!?

Things I hadn't known, going into the film: Miles Teller can actually drum (though not like THAT), so they mostly didn't have to cheat him while filming the drumming scenes, even that demented nine-minute solo he does right at the end. And not only can J.K. Simmons actually play the piano, he also A) studied music and B) has a degree in conducting, which shows throughout. I'm pretty sure they never taught him to stop people mid-bar by making a really contemptuous fist, though; that seems like a Starring Terence Fletcher As Evil Mr Clean character choice, to me.

I'm assuming most people out there know the basic plot of Whiplash, since it's not exactly complex. Andrew Neiman (Teller) is a first-year student at Schaffer Conservatory, an aspiring jazz drummer who first meets Fletcher--the legendary conductor/instructor of Schaffer's Studio Band class--while practicing alone in what looks like the middle of the night. Fletcher then shows up in his regular class, "auditioning" him briefly before bringing him into Studio Band as an alternate drummer. What ensues after that is a fast-paced plunge into toxic masculine mutual obsession, with Neiman wrecking himself while trying to live up to Fletcher's increasingly deranged demands--he practices until his hands bleed, he ditches his girlfriend (in a scene to rival The Social Network's break-up scene), he gets into a car accident while trying to retrieve his drumsticks before a competition performance, then shows up onstage covered in blood with a broken hand, then tries to strangle Fletcher when Fletcher "fires" him on the spot.

Throughout, Simmons lays on equal parts charisma and contempt; Fletcher grills Nieman about his family background right before a rehearsal, then uses what he learns to bully him until he cries ("Oh holy shit, are you one of those single tear people?"); he slaps him repeatedly in the face, insults his religion, comes up with more homophobic insults than you can shake a stick at ("This is not your boyfriend's dick, do not come early!"). At one point he makes all three Studio Band drummers try to master the same freakin' thirty-second section of the title piece until maybe one in the morning while the rest of the band waits outside, thus leading to the wonderful subtitle "[Fletcher shouting indistinctly]." He's not a total asshole all the time, but that actually ends up making him more frightening; by the end, you've learned that anytime Fletcher smiles and says: "Let's have fun," fun is NOT what's about to ensue, unless you're a very specific brand of masochist.

Then again, I guess Nieman is that brand, because of all the students Fletcher's practiced this shit on over the years--one of whom, it's revealed, hung himself just a few months earlier due to PTSD from Fletcher's "teaching" methods--he actually eventually seems to flourish and make the sort of breakthrough Fletcher claims to have been aiming, that aforementioned solo on the JVC concert stage. So is Nieman the fabled Charlie Parker Fletcher's been waiting for? Did Fletcher create/nurture that talent, or was it always lurking inside Nieman, only to emerge explosively under horrifying pressure? And better yet, what the hell happens now?

Chazelle ends the movie there, so basically, that's what fanfiction is for--but both he and Teller seem to assume that Nieman's probably going to live out his own self-fulfilling prophecy and die drug-addicted and alone by 34, after which I guess Fletcher will probably cry while eulogizing him to some other poor bunch of fuckers he's already in the process of tricking into destroying themselves at the altar of "art." (Or hell, who knows; maybe Nieman manages to avoid that fate by shacking up with a sixty-year-old dom who makes him his sole pet project for the rest of his life. Maybe they get married at some jazz-themed wedding ten years from now, once Nieman's won every relevant jazz award. Maybe Fletcher dies of a heart-attack in mid-scream and Nieman retires, then start teaching.;))

After that, I moved on to Park Chan-Wook's The Handmaiden, which I bought on DVD at least two months ago and still hadn't watched yet, which turned out to form a very interesting thematic counterpoint to Whiplash. But that will have to wait until after I'm finished the work I have to do today.


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