Whiplash movie hit by backlash from disgruntled jazz fans

The story of an ambitious young drummer driven to the edge of insanity by his teacher’s methods has failed to strike a chord with jazz aficionados

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The Independent Culture

Jazz thriller Whiplash, which earned the nickname “Full Metal Jacket at Juilliard” for its brutal portrayal of a music teacher’s bullying, has become a surprise hit with film critics and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the story of an ambitious young drummer driven to the edge of insanity by his teacher’s methods has failed to strike a chord with jazz aficionados angered by its “warped view” of the music they love.

It was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival last year, winning the Grand Jury and Audience prizes, while JK Simmons is favourite for best supporting actor at the Oscars for his portrayal of the teacher.

Yet dissenting voices have emerged from jazz lovers who claim it caricatures the music, makes mistake with playing techniques and fails to show the joy of the form.

 

The attack was led by The New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “The movie’s very idea of jazz is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature,” he said, adding it “has no music in its soul”. Respected critic JR Jones of the Chicago Reader said people who love music may find the film “faintly offensive”.

Jon Newey, editor of magazine Jazzwise, told The Independent that he understood those views: “There are factual misrepresentations in the film. It is a warped, retrogressive portrayal of jazz and big band cutting sessions.”

The story follows Andrew Neiman, 19, as he pursues his dream at an elite conservatory. There he meets jazz ensemble leader Terence Fletcher, who will stop at nothing to realise Neiman’s potential.

It has more in common with An Officer and a Gentleman than it does with jazz movies such as Lady Sings the Blues or Bird, Mr Newey said. “It’s about bullying, not jazz. Jazz’s portrayal in the film is a little frustrating... I hope it doesn’t put people off because jazz has a tough enough fight as it is. We’re always trying to get young people in.”

Damien Chazelle, the film’s writer and director, was a jazz drummer in high school, and said he had a teacher with similar traits to Fletcher. He said in an interview that jazz was a “very hostile type of music”.

But Mark Fletcher, a regular drummer at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club since the 1980s, dubbed the film “hazz education, gone Hollywood”.

“Some, not all, of the drumming is awful… adequate at best. They seem confused ... knowing all the line-ups and the chronology of classic jazz recordings does not make you a jazz musician,” he said. “Jazz isn’t just a ‘genre’ it’s a lifestyle, nay, a life-form..”

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