Whiplash (2014)

"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'Good job'."
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good job’.”

Richard Brody didn’t like Whiplash (2014).

That’s fine. Critics, of all people, are certainly entitled to their opinion. And Richard Brody is by no means an unqualified critic. What Brody’s done here, though, is fundamentally misunderstand the thrust of the film he’s critiquing. It’s a trap that a great many critics fall into: thinking the film is about one thing, when it’s actually about something else, or a bunch of other things.

‘The movie’s very idea of jazz,’ writes Brody, ‘is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature.’ It certainly would be, if this was a film about jazz, rather than a jazz film.

What on earth is a jazz film? Damn fine question. The notion came to me in one of the earlier scenes in Damien Chazelle’s film. Miles Teller’s Andrew leaves the Conservatory, heading home after thinking he’s failed to make the cut for the concert band. Amid the standard cutting of Andrew walking the streets between his school and his home, random shots show street lamps, illuminated windows, signage, traffic. This isn’t a standard contextualising montage between scenes – these are random shots interspersed with the character-centric frames.

This random approach to cinematography and editing persists throughout the film – take the phenomenal final shots which obscure the subjects’ faces, and not the parts a cinematographer would normally mask.

So while perhaps Chazelle is not glorifying jazz, the learning of music, or education more broadly, he is certainly contributing a jazz sensibility to the craft of cinema.

Billy Crystal is quoted as saying ‘That’s the thing about jazz; it’s free-flowing, it comes from your soul.’ This idea works for Whiplash: not only is the flow of images free, but they all feel as though they came from some deep place.

This is particularly appropriate given that this is not a film about music, or education, or history, or culture. This is a film about the systematic manipulation and mangled reconstruction of one soul by another.

Whiplash is a staggering film, that I’ll struggle to get over. It’s a stellar character piece, and I feel that the claustrophobic intimacy of its dark story will haunt cinema for some years to come.

Speed and politics

Need for Speed (d. Scott Waugh, 2015).
Need for Speed (d. Scott Waugh, 2015).

Cinema is movement. Movement is change. Change is politics — politics regulates change.

Movement in the frame is thus political.

The addition of speed amplifies the political impetus of cinema. Movement is cinema.

* * *

[It’s okay, I haven’t lost it. These are perfunctory scribblings for upcoming research, that I thought were strangely poetic. Rough thoughts on the disappointingly not-that-disappointing Need for Speed here.]

Writing

I haven’t written for a very long time.

That seems a strange thing to say, given that I bill myself as a ‘writer, producer, and researcher’. But it’s true. In terms of actually setting mind to page without the baggage of scholarly rigour, it’s been an age.

Given I now work for an institution that lauds, encourages, creative practice as research, I’m wondering if there’s an element of writing that needs a punch in the face. Or — maybe I just need to write, and figure the rest out afterwards.

I surround myself with people who I know have outstanding skills in their respective fields, whether living or dead. But I’ve not opened a screenwriting program in some three or four years. There’s something there.

There’s always something there.

I just have to go find it, capture it, and ensure I can type it out in Courier New 12pt.

Re-framing the frame

Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.
Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.

‘Framing is a position of thinking.’

– Daniel Frampton, Filmosophy, p. 125.

As previously alluded to, I’m in the very strange process of having to think through my own comprehension of the cinematic medium. In a way, I’m taking baby steps towards my own theory of film. I’ll be taking these initial explorations to a couple of conferences in New Zealand in a couple of months, and I’m also running a studio around the same topic in the second half of the year.

The basis of this new research is that throughout film history, film theory, the notion of the ‘frame’ is never questioned. So much of this is due to the fact that up until very recently, the frame itself was a tangible thing: there’s little need to theorise or philosophise about something you can cut up and hold in your hand. While my research goes out on multiple tangents, the ones we’ll be looking at in the studio have to do with our framing of the world, and how we can link this notion of framing to our conception of self, and our own thought process. It sounds pretentious, I’m well aware, but I’m hoping that through exploring what a cinematic frame is in 2015, we can move towards a comprehension of digital cinema that is either entirely new or, at best, a – ahem – reframing of older theories of film form and philosophy.

7 February 2010

Thoughts from the elder Moleskine:

‘When I was a child, I thought as a child acted as a child, spoke as a child… but when I became a man, I turned my back on childish things.’ [1 Corinthians 13:11]

The church expects that every person should grow up. Why? There is no harm, no danger, no inherent negative effect in striving to hold on to childish notions, to innocence, to a wonder at the world, to a genuine and pure interest in others. If everyone held to these, maybe the world would be a better place.

A Thursday

She’s laughing at an in-joke with herself about everyone on board;
She’s engrossed in her book;
He has his headphones in, openly staring at each commuter in turn;
All the other men are suited, reading their papers or fumbling with technology that was crafted much later than their fingers stopped working;
There is an amicably animated conversation in French – naturally the phrase “I’m entering the City Loop, I’ll call you back” needs no translation for eavesdroppers.

[originally put here, photo by me, original here]