Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning sophomore feature film, Whiplash, looks as beautiful as ever since being released on 4K Ultra HD.
It’s very fascinating to revisit the film several years after I watched it for the first time. For one, it’s been wonderful watching Chazelle evolve as a filmmaker let alone have the opportunity to tell him in person how much I appreciate his work. I didn’t start attending Sundance until 2018 but Whiplash is one of those films that I would have made a point to see in 2014. I mean, this is a film that won both the jury and audience award for the U.S. Dramatic Competition! You know how can tell that you’re watching an Oscar-winning performance on first viewing? J.K. Simmons delivers a masterclass performance and his Supporting Actor win was well-deserved. To have been a fly on the wall at its Sundance premiere!
Young jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) dreams of greatness. He’s a college student with just one thing on his mind: drumming. He wishes to rise to the top at his elite music conservatory. Maybe it is because his father, Jim (Paul Reiser) is a failed writer but Andrew has the hunger inside him. We see this in every frame of the film.
Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) walks in one night while Andrew is rehearsing. The next thing you know, he checks out Andrew’s class and then invites him to join the studio jazz band. It’s quite the honor for any student because this is the top ensemble at the school. What Andrew doesn’t know is something he learns very quickly: Fletcher is a terror as a teacher. But again, it’s a masterclass performance and that’s why he took home the Oscar after playing the festival circuit.
It’s not an understatement to say that Andrew’s life changes the moment that he walks into Fletcher’s class. Fletcher pushes him to the point of bleeding during rehearsals. We’re talking about a college student who lives and breathes drumming. He will make himself bleed if it means winning first chair in the ensemble. Andrew’s own mental health and dating life with theater counter girl Nicole (Melissa Benoist) will take its toll in the process. By focusing on music, Andrew dooms his own dating life. Everything changes when a music sheet gets misplaced during a band competition–Andrew becomes the core drummer in the ensemble because he’s the only one who knows the charts. His classmates might hate his guts but they still win. It’s rather fascinating to watch Andrew’s life from here on out, becoming something of a psychological character study if you will.
What surprises me the most on rewatch is that they took 19 days to shoot the film. Not just this but they would only premiere the film a few months after wrapping principal photography. This really speaks to Chazelle knowing exactly what he wants as a filmmaker. There’s some fun tidbits one can learn during the TIFF Q&A: Chazelle had Miles Teller in mind from the start but when it came to casting Terence Fletcher, Jason Reitman suggested his muse, J.K. Simmons. Teller certainly put in the work for the role, taking jazz lessons and all. The other part of the Q&A helps explain why jazz plays a huge part in just about every film of his: he played jazz in school before transitioning to become a film director.
For many films, the score would get added in after the film’s completion. Maybe a composer will compose a theme or two ahead of time and help add to the performance on set. In this instance, it’s Justin Hurwitz composing the music that they’re performing on screen unless credited to another artist. His work does not disappoint and it’s been wonderful to watch the Chazelle-Hurwitz collaboration grow on screen.
I picked up the film on 4K UHD at some point in 2020 or 2021. Aside from Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, it was the only one of Chazelle’s films that I didn’t own up to that point. However, I didn’t get around to watching it until this past week in celebration of Damien’s newest film, Babylon, opening in theaters. Let me tell you, the imagery is just as pristine as when I experienced the film in theaters in January 2015.
Damien Chazelle explores how much greatness is worth in Whiplash and manages to capture terrific performances in one of the best films of 2014.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Damien Chazelle
CAST: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Max Kasch, Damon Gupton
Sony Classics released Whiplash in theaters on October 10, 2014. Grade: 5/5
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