It’s going to be a memorable Sundance Film Festival if the rest of the movies can keep up with the beat that Whiplash laid down last night. The opening-night premiere from 28-year-old director Damien Chazelle tells the story of an ambitious jazz-drummer prodigy (Miles Teller) who bumps up against an intimidating tyrant of a music teacher played by J.K. Simmons. Bad-ass bald, with bulging biceps that fill his fashionable black t-shirts, Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher is a cruel taskmaster who bludgeons his students with torrents of mocking, often homophobic, invective in his mission to create true genius. Fletcher toys with them psychologically and bullies them physically, like some musical Bobby Knight. “I remember when I first met [J.K.], I just sort of told him, “Remember how you were in Oz? I want to make that guy look like the teacher in Mr. Holland’s Opus,” Chazelle said to the audience after last night’s premiere.
Chazelle himself was a serious jazz drummer in high school, and he based the poisenous relationship on one he had with one of his own mentors. “Drums had always been like a fun hobby for me, and for four years, when I was in that ensemble, it became just a source of constant dread,” he said last night. “Just looking back, it was an interesting experience because I became a much better drummer than I know I ever would’ve, but I also didn’t enjoy it at all. And maybe for people who feel that music should be about joy and fun, it was missing the point. So those were certain questions that I was grasping with and I just wanted to write about it.”
That Whiplash — which refers to a jazz composition composed by Hank Levy — got a prime Sundance showcase is a great tribute to Chazelle’s crew, and an honor to the festival’s spirit. Last year, Whiplash won the Sundance price for Best Short film, and Chazelle spent the last 12 months turning an 18 minute short, that was specially created as a sample to show potential investors, into a deeper, richer two-hander that questions all the blood, sweat, and tears that seem to be the price of greatness. Sony Pictures quickly picked up the distribution rights to some international markets. A big number for the price of the domestic rights would not surprise anyone who witnessed last night’s premiere. (Though if the film becomes a hit, Simmons’ future as a comforting, vest-wearing pitch-man for Farmers Insurance might soon need to be rethought.)
Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay for Grand Piano, spoke to EW before the premiere about his movie. READ FULL STORY