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The Big Screen: What ‘Whiplash’ Gets Wrong
by Stephen Becker 21 Jan 2015

BigScreen_logoSMALLOver the next several weeks, we’ll be taking a look at Oscar-nominated films with local experts on the topic. To begin the series, John Murphy, chair of UNT’s jazz studies division, stops by the KERA studio to talk about Whiplash. It’s nominated for five Oscars – including best picture. But let’s just say he’s not a fan.

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  • Mike

    I do hope that this movie will bring the music of Don Ellis and Hank Levy back into the view of the general public as some of the best Big Band music ever written and performed (and not strictly as a source of drum and bugle corps noise).
    Haven’t seen the movie; but, the previews seem pretty far off base when it comes to motivation vs. intimidation. Big band jazz has always bought joy, excitement, and generally great feelings into my life as a performer and listener. I don’t think this movie is likely to do that.

  • Mike

    I do hope that this movie will bring the music of Don Ellis and Hank Levy back into the view of the general public as some of the best Big Band music ever written and performed (and not strictly as a source of drum and bugle corps noise).
    Haven’t seen the movie; but, the previews seem pretty far off base when it comes to motivation vs. intimidation. Big band jazz has always bought joy, excitement, and generally great feelings into my life as a performer and listener. I don’t think this movie is likely to do that.

  • Pingback: The Big Screen: Find out why UNT’s jazz chair really, really didn’t like Whiplash | Dallas Morning News()

  • Jaymee Haefner

    Just listened to KERA’s interview, and wanted to say a huge “thank you” to John Murphy for being a voice of reason in this age of overly-sensationalized-Hollywood entertainment. I don’t understand why so many topics on the big screen are injected with hype in order to qualify as “entertainment” for the public, especially during an age when the arts can easily be lost due to emphasis on STEM. I’m concerned that a movie like this can frighten people about the field of music and life as a professional musician and teacher, during a time when the promotion of the arts is so critical!

  • Jaymee Haefner

    Just listened to KERA’s interview, and wanted to say a huge “thank you” to John Murphy for being a voice of reason in this age of overly-sensationalized-Hollywood entertainment. I don’t understand why so many topics on the big screen are injected with hype in order to qualify as “entertainment” for the public, especially during an age when the arts can easily be lost due to emphasis on STEM. I’m concerned that a movie like this can frighten people about the field of music and life as a professional musician and teacher, during a time when the promotion of the arts is so critical!

  • Christine Mester

    It’s a fictional story and not representative of all music programs. Whether it be a sports coach, a parent or a music instructor, I’m sure there have been instances of utilizing borderline abusive techniques to push a student to “greatness”. This is an intense movie with impressive acting. I believe the Oscar nomination is appropriate.

  • Christine Mester

    It’s a fictional story and not representative of all music programs. Whether it be a sports coach, a parent or a music instructor, I’m sure there have been instances of utilizing borderline abusive techniques to push a student to “greatness”. This is an intense movie with impressive acting. I believe the Oscar nomination is appropriate.

  • Avalon Morley

    A friend who is a successful and highly respected drummer, bandleader, composer, producer, prolific teacher, and true jazz artist, had similar things to say about WHIPLASH. I’m glad to hear from actual jazz professionals that the extremes of violence and psychopathic behavior on view in the trailer (I haven’t yet seen the movie itself) are not accurate portrayals of the people or the process of jazz.

    If they wanted to make a movie about sadistic, or manipulative, or just quite whacko teachers of one art form or another, they did have more valid options. Certainly, there are still pockets (or perhaps even swathes — I’m a little out of the loop these days) of comparable behaviors and attitudes towards students and young professionals of dance, and not only (though perhaps primarily) in classical ballet. There is long tradition and more than a bit of accuracy to the cliché of the relentlessly, cruelly severe ballet master, tearing a student down, in order to 1) discern whether the student really wants and needs to dance, enough to slog on through pain and abuse to attain professional status; 2) toughen the student up enough to withstand the rigors of the profession; and 3) knock just enough of the spirit out of the student that he or she will primarily stick to the “shut up and dance” dictum, presenting him or herself as a tool for the choreographer’s use, with no complicating artistic vision of his/her own. Happily, this was never the only style of training dancers, nor even the most common, and it appears to be less pervasive currently than it used to be. High standards, honest, unvarnished assessments, and realistic guidance pertaining to a student’s prospects are all necessary, and can be painful enough, even when delivered as kindly as possible; no need for superfluous, destructive negativity heaped on top.

    Any serious, worthwhile work by an artist in just about any art form is going to require a degree (usually a great degree) of truly hard work, along with some combination of pain, or frustration, or just not always thrilling persistence. But there’d better be some measure of joy and love involved as well, or it’s probably not going to be art.

  • LuKas Kasdan

    Whiplash reminded me a lot of Black Swan. Both movies feature talented young persons in highly competitive environments who are mentally abused by a sadistic mentor. But the movies should not be viewed as commentary on prestigious arts programs. The plot involving a tyrant ruling with an iron fist beyond the limits could have been placed in a number of settings. Whiplash was just a great opportunity to feature an arts program as the backdrop for the story. In fact, the movie has had me on a jazz kick lately.

  • LuKas Kasdan

    Whiplash reminded me a lot of Black Swan. Both movies feature talented young persons in highly competitive environments who are mentally abused by a sadistic mentor. But the movies should not be viewed as commentary on prestigious arts programs. The plot involving a tyrant ruling with an iron fist beyond the limits could have been placed in a number of settings. Whiplash was just a great opportunity to feature an arts program as the backdrop for the story. In fact, the movie has had me on a jazz kick lately.

  • LuKas Kasdan

    John Murphy is right – jazz is less about precision and more about
    letting the musicians freely showcase their talents through
    improvisation and feeling. It’s the reason we love it!

  • LuKas Kasdan

    John Murphy is right – jazz is less about precision and more about
    letting the musicians freely showcase their talents through
    improvisation and feeling. It’s the reason we love it!

  • Guest

    I agree that Simmons’ character’s insistence on precision & perfection runs counter to the improvisation aspect of jazz instruction. But I disagree that people (particularly young aspirants) go away from the movie believing his character is representative of all such teachers. Quite the contrary. The character is portrayed as unique, even himself acknowledges that he is perceived as such. And a late plot development further drives that point home. What’s also made clear is the students who play for him are there by choice, knowing what kind of teacher he is. As to whether such a drill sergeant teacher might actually exist, the screenwriter has said it’s semi-autobiographical. I say all this because I liked the movie (it’s good not great), but I’ve always thought J.K. Simmons was one of those unsung badass character actors who deserves his comeuppance. It really is worth seeing just for him.

  • Brad_E

    I agree that Simmons’ character’s insistence on precision & perfection runs counter to the improvisation aspect of jazz instruction. But I disagree that people (particularly young aspirants) go away from the movie believing his character is representative of all such teachers. Quite the contrary. The character is portrayed as unique, even himself acknowledges that he is perceived as such. And a late plot development further drives that point home. What’s also made clear is the students who play for him are there by choice, knowing what kind of teacher he is. As to whether such a drill sergeant teacher might actually exist, the screenwriter has said it’s semi-autobiographical. I say all this because I liked the movie (it’s good not great), but I’ve always thought J.K. Simmons was one of those unsung badass character actors who deserves his comeuppance. It really is worth seeing just for him.

  • Brad_E

    I agree that Simmons’ character’s insistence on precision & perfection runs counter to the improvisation aspect of jazz instruction. But I disagree that people (particularly young aspirants) go away from the movie believing his character is representative of all such teachers. Quite the contrary. The character is portrayed as unique, even himself acknowledges that he is perceived as such. And a late plot development further drives that point home. What’s also made clear is the students who play for him are there by choice, knowing what kind of teacher he is. As to whether such a drill sergeant teacher might actually exist, the screenwriter has said it’s semi-autobiographical. I say all this because I liked the movie (it’s good not great), but I’ve always thought J.K. Simmons was one of those unsung badass character actors who deserves his comeuppance. It really is worth seeing just for him.

  • Brad_E

    I agree that Simmons’ character’s insistence on precision & perfection runs counter to the improvisation aspect of jazz instruction. But I disagree that people (particularly young aspirants) go away from the movie believing his character is representative of all such teachers. Quite the contrary. The character is portrayed as unique, even himself acknowledges that he is perceived as such. And a late plot development further drives that point home. What’s also made clear is the students who play for him are there by choice, knowing what kind of teacher he is. As to whether such a drill sergeant teacher might actually exist, the screenwriter has said it’s semi-autobiographical. I say all this because I liked the movie (it’s good not great), but I’ve always thought J.K. Simmons was one of those unsung badass character actors who deserves his comeuppance. It really is worth seeing just for him.

  • Stagebandman

    Anyone notice that the lead trombonist at the “most prestigious conservatory” in the country was playing an Olds Ambassador?

  • Reboot2016

    I also have to believe that you can be a great teacher without being a total douche