Whiplash (2014) is much more than a film about Jazz, it’s a film about drive, passion, about pushing yourself beyond the breaking point and keeping going. The film is significant to me because of those reasons, but also because it is a masterclass of cinematography, editing and screenwriting by its writer and director Damien Chazelle.
Whiplash may have been dismissed or overlooked by some as ‘just another jazz film’ but it is so much more than that, it is an experience. In fact, for its UK release, it was marketed as such. When contacted about their viral marketing campaign for Whiplash dubbed’ The Whiplash Experience’ UK based marketing company Spinnaker’s representative had this to say:
“We were aware of the limitations of the campaign as advertising it as a jazz film may exclude some of the wider audience, to make it appeal to the masses we decided to market the experience of the film, how it made the audience feel more so than the film itself.”
(A, Jones, 2015)
For ‘The Whiplash Experience’ audience members heart rates were monitored during screenings of the film and the results showed their heart rates spiking, particularly towards the climactic finale.
For a film as loud, colourful and exciting as Whiplash is, it is a film also filled with subtleties that may go unnoticed, but all add toward the films narrative. Sinking the audience deeper into the story for the true ‘Whiplash Experience’.
The films colour palette is one of the more obvious of these methods. To show the fiery inferno that is JK Simmons character ‘Fletcher’ He is often bathed in a warm yellow-orange light. These are usually scenes where he is control of the situation, whether he is conducting the music, leading the conversation or yelling at Miles Teller’s character Andrew.
The second predominant colouring of the film is a bluey-green motif that is taken when Teller’s character Andrew is alone, or at least feeling isolated. This technique is used throughout the film after his characters failures, if he fails to perform, embarrasses himself or argues with his family the bluey-green colouring is there to enhance this feeling of his isolation from the world and his family.
Another method used by Chazelle is how he places barriers between Andrew and other characters with the exception of Fletcher. Throughout the film we see Andrew interacting with family, his love interest Nicole and his father but there always seems to be a barrier between them. Not just emotionally but physically. If Andrews character is facing them there’s a barrier in-between them, be it a door, a table or his drum kit.
The exception to this is Fletcher. Often there are barriers between the characters, but at several points during the film it is just the two of them, talking face to face, no barriers. A subtle method of letting the audience know the connection, how Andrew feels about Fletcher, the respect, the admiration and their similarities.
The two contrasting worlds of Andrews life are further driven apart by their vastly different editing styles. Tom Cross, the films editor spoke about Chazelles intention for the films editing after receiving his Academy Award for best achievement in film editing in 2015. The rehearsals, and music scenes of Whiplash were edited as if they were an action scene, fast quick cuts. Chazelle intended for these scenes to be brutal, he wanted them to feel like a boxing scene from raging bull, a stark contrast to how Andrew’s other life is shown in the film.
Outside of the music room and off the stage, the editing is considerably slower, gentler and even romantic at times. A slower calmer atmosphere, a tempting calm used by Chazelle to show the appeal of the cool, calm world that Andrew can leave the warzone of a stage for. A world that Andrew almost embraces in the final scene as he leaves the stage. But he doesn’t, he returns, embracing the fiery inferno, walking from the dark-green cool light into the fiery orange theater lights, the inferno of the stage for the films finale. A masterfully edited sequence that had me on the edge of my seat, heart pounding. The Whiplash experience.
Chazelle excels not only at what he puts on screen, but also what he doesn’t show. Before the films climax Andrews character has seemingly given up, he is shown packing away his drum kit, leaving college and getting a normal, everyday job. The plasters and blisters that adorned his hands gone or fading, until he meets Fletcher. Andrew is offered the chance to play again, a chance that he takes. And although a small training montage was originally written by Chazelle, the scenes were cut. Andrew isn’t shown practicing or playing the drums at all until he is on stage, but the audience knows he has.
The plasters and calluses that Andrew had earned through the film have returned, with a single shot of Andrew applying a plaster to his hand the audience knows what he’s been doing, no need to slow down the films accelerating pace with yet another scene of Andrew practicing. Chazelle gives all the information to the audience in a single shot, an admirable show of restraint.
It’s a combination of all of these methods and so much more that make Whiplash a significant film to me. Andrews inner conflict and burning desire to succeed are something I, and most others can identify with, but the techniques and methods used are universal. The film elicits a feeling, all these subtle methods, the colouring, the editing, the pace, all guiding the audience though the story. Delving us deeper into Andrews’s life, into his conflicts, his despair, and his passion. And when Andrew finally succeeds, when he is left sweating and panting over the drum kit finally having done it, finally succeeding, the audience is left hearts pounding as the credits roll. The Whiplash experience.
Jones, A. (2015). Whiplash marketing strategies. [Interview]. 9th December 2015.
Spinnaker London (2015). The Whiplash Experiment [Online] 23rd March 2015. Available from: http://www.creativebrief.com/new-work/permalink/3103/sony-pictures-releasing-digital-integrated-marketing-the-whiplash-experiment-by-spinnaker-london. [Accessed November 16th 2016].
Whiplash (2012) Directed by: Damien Chazelle [DVD]. USA: Sony Picture Classics.
Welch, A. (2014) Damien Chazelle Talks Film vs Digital: What It Was Like Shooting WHIPLASH on Digital! [Online]. 28th October 2014. Available from: http://schmoesknow.com/damien-chazelle-talks-film-vs-digital-what-it-was-like-shooting-whiplash-on-digital/30770/. [Accessed November 16th 2016]
Sims, D. (2014) The Uncomfortable Message in Whiplash’s Dazzling Finale [Online].22nd October 2014. Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/10/the-ethics-of-whiplash/381636/. [Accessed November 16th 2016]
Magdalenski, C. (2016) Obsession’s Inferno: The Cinematography of “Whiplash” [Online]. 22nd March 2016. Available from: https://scenesfromanimaginaryfilm.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/obsessions-inferno-the-cinematography-of-whiplash/. [Accessed November 16th 2016].
Cross, T. (2015) Screenrant – Oscars: Tom Cross Backstage Interview 2015 [Online Video]. February 23rd 2015. Available From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tashApV-SKM. [Accessed: November 16th 2016].
Chazelle, D. (2014) Whiplash. Available from:http://www.sonyclassics.com/awards-information/whiplash_screenplay.pdf. [Accessed November 16th 2016].