If you see one film this month, make it Whiplash. The story of a first year jazz drummer who's studying at America's best music college (the fictional Shaffer Conservatory) where he is pushed beyond his limits by a fanatical conductor, it is a fantastic representation of the pressure musicians put themselves under to achieve 'perfection', and something beyond that – fame and glory.
The fundamental question the film asks is: 'can a musician discover their full potential without being pushed to the point of cruelty by a powerful tutor?' – and the answer director Damien Chazelle essentially gives us is 'no.' A car accident and near mental breakdown does not prevent our protagonist, Andrew (Miles Teller), from achieving greatness in a drum solo in the final scene. But Chazelle's answer comes with a stark warning – that a musician pushed too hard can also be discouraged.
It is perhaps more a study of the power individuals can hold over others, then, than one of how the jazz industry is driven from behind the scenes in reality. As Richard Brody's blog for the New Yorker suggests, a true love of jazz is the one important thing missing from this film about jazz (the plot revolves around an anecdote recalling the moment in jazz history when Count Basie's drummer Jo Jones threw a symbol at saxophonist Charlie Parker for a botched solo).
But the film's brilliance overshadows a notion like this, at least for me. The acting is superb, the atmosphere of some of the rehearsal scenes come as close to life as I have ever seen in a film and the music is infectious.
If you like this, why not try:
• A private screening at 20th Century Flicks
• Film: The Broken Circle Breakdown
• Not another Sundance movie