FilmGet Out

Race relations in the USA are strained, to put it mildly; new...

Taking My Poster Down (Brexit Rant)

I’ve had this poster up since May 2016, and on June 24th of last year, I decided to leave it up until the day that Article 50 was triggered.

Frankly, being completely honest, I never thought I’d have to take the poster down.

I thought that somewhere between the callous, disingenuous demagoguery of pre-referendum Leave campaign and the certifiable theatre of chaos and bull-headed nationalism that has since crescendoed exponentially to a deafening cacophony of stupidity, the façade of Brexit would slip, and its supporters would see the true terror behind the Red, White, and Blue exterior.

‘The people have spoken!’, people keep telling me, ‘this is democracy!’, ‘it would be undemocratic to challenge any part of Brexit!’ Really? 52% voted to leave back in June, that’s a majority, sure, but since then there has been no subsequent consultation of anyone; the people and parliament have either been denied a voice or actively abandoned their right to one.

The Government and the Brexit supporters have held onto this most tenuous and anaemic of mandates as justification for every subsequent action, all in the name of Brexit, and all of which have been hindered by perpetual secrecy and clandestine politics off-limits to us, the people. They behave as though the 51.9% was a unanimous decision by the British electorate to run head-long into the most destructive and disastrous scenario possible.

The Leave campaign’s misrepresentations and contortions started unravelling the day the referendum results were announced, but much like the scandal-laden President of our partners across the pond, the dogma has emerged unscathed. The fears and concerns of the working classes were, and continue to be, warped and abused; telling them to blame immigrants for their ills rather than greedy free marketeers, Tory ideologues, and other architects of their poverty, and that unhindered international cooperation is too steep a price to pay for social and economic security. It won’t be the rich who suffer after Brexit, it will be the bottom 80% – the people who were convinced incredibly to vote for their own destitution in the name of ‘patriotism’.

In victory, the Leave campaign and its disciples have broken out the Union Flags and the bulldogs in abundance and used them to paper over the cracks in their own arguments. The promises that were made, and the sheer falsehoods told to convince the working classes that the ultra-right and rich only have their best interests at heart have been thrown under the Brexit bus and we are now forced into this painful panoply of banal, moronic, flag-waggling ‘patriotism’ designed to make us feel okay about cutting off our face to spite our head.

Brexit itself is, in my opinion, and I believe the evidence confirms, a disaster in slow-motion, but it’s the catalyst for something that is equally terrible, something that gives me just as much concern. Something ugly has reared its head in the shadows of this demagogic-populist uprising. The Brexit referendum seems to have granted moral license to the very worst among our society to begin undoing all the progressive good works done over the last few decades. Incidence of hate crimes has increased since June ’16, bizarrely anti-semitism is on the rise, and support for minority rights is slipping. People who would once have been ashamed or unwilling to voice sexist, racist, and homophobic views have now become empowered by Brexit and found the guts to speak out loud and clear, as though the Brexit referendum was also a referendum on the equality, social cohesion, and human cooperation that is so often arrogantly and cheaply written off as ‘political correctness.’ To paraphrase Owen Jones’ article last night, ‘it’s like being told: “you’ve had your fun, you lefty liberal snowflakes, and now you’re going to pay for it.”‘

We have two years to strike a deal with the EU, an organisation who we routinely taunt and bemoan, and who have almost no interest in bowing to our benighted blight on its western flank, much less handing us a golden deal on a silver platter. There is no chance at all that the UK will get anywhere near as good a deal outside of the EU as it had inside. It utterly defies logic to assume that this will happen, but this is what May is peddling.

Trump will be impeached before the end of his first term; his cabinet will be dissolved, or the Republican party will grow a pair and mutiny against him; in less than four years, the USA will be able to undo and rollback the pigheaded demagogic exploitation of populism for the gain of the upper classes that we are seeing under Trump. Britain will have no such luxury. In two years, we yank the cable out and hope for the best.

Re-admission to the EU is a long, long, way off, and May’s comments today mirror her past recklessness in promising that Brexit is a one-way street. To me, it seems more like a runaway train thundering towards a chasm over which there is no bridge. Half the passengers want to get off but can’t, the other half are convinced that there might a bridge that people don’t want to admit is there; the conductor doesn’t know what she’s doing but is winging it and trying to placate the passengers on both sides, and the drivers hammer the throttle home with spittle-flying apocalyptic relish.

Maybe I’m wrong, and Brexit will be a success – a Red, White, and Blue success – which benefits the UK in some way currently unforeseeable by experts, academics, and people whose careers are dedicated to international politics and economics (who needs them, right?) but after all this time, even during my brief period before the referendum actively considering a Leave vote, I have yet to be convinced that there is some prosperous utopia waiting for us as soon as we leave the world’s largest borderless trading bloc.

Get Out

Race relations in the USA are strained, to put it mildly; new stories about white police officers harassing or shooting black citizens appear almost weekly, and the marching trend towards demagogic fascism with strong racist overtones continues on. Racial segregation has long since been struck from law, but the damage and divisions between these communities are still real and visceral.

Get Out tells the story of the Black nightmare. The Black experience dialled up to 11. Visiting a white girlfriend’s parents on their rural estate, and having to navigate the ludicrous and complex social constructs and prejudices that exist between these groups. It’s designed to express the fear, the anxiety, the awkwardness, the prejudice, the history, and the perceived consequences of a Black introduction into a White suburban family.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of my enjoyment is probably due to the surroundings in which I watched it (more on that later), but this directorial debut from Jordan Peele feels like the creation of a well-established horror director with a confident grasp of racial and cultural issues (#woke).

Daniel Kaluuya’s portrayal of the pointedly named Chris Washington is extraordinary. The range of vivid emotion and his ability to slip into character are performed effortlessly and tirelessly. He is undoubtedly the high-point of the cast.

The use of humour and comic relief is admirable – Lil Rei Howery’s TSA guard is reason enough to see this film – and serves to shatter the tension of what would otherwise be an unremittingly bleak story.

The reliance on cheap jump scares causes me to lose a lot of respect for horror films, so I’m happy to be able to say that they are used sparingly (I initially typo’d that word as ‘scaringly’), and the majority of the horror is this deep and slow-burning crescendo of tension that, combined with the horrors of its racial connotations, serves to unsettle the mind, rather than just scare the senses.

Although it’s a solid and enjoyable horror film on its own cinematic merit, this film is built firmly upon the theme of race and racism. A lot of the thematic currents are explicit and sometimes almost patronising in their conspicuousness, but I found that it’s the things left unsaid that had the most weight.

Almost every scene and line of dialogue drips with thick racial symbolism; from the ‘kill the deers’ speech through to the theatrical poster – Daniel Kaluuya’s terrified monochrome eyes wedged between solid white – the issue of race is inescapable. As the story progresses, we exponentially experience the history of black slavery, identity, and equality through well-constructive metaphors and narrative devices.

Ultimately, this film is about black slavery; it’s about whites dehumanising and claiming ownership of blacks, but I’ll avoid spoilers and say no more on that point. When a certain character uses the phrase ‘a sliver of consciousness’, you’ll know what I mean.

I had something of a unique experience watching Get Out; I was invited by a friend to a private screening organised by a group advocating and supporting black people in cinema, a cause of which I’m strongly in favour. I was literally one of two white people in an audience of 100+, and hearing the discussion afterwards was frankly eye-opening, and genuinely moving.

Sadly I confess that the point I made early on about this film being the ‘black nightmare experience’ when meeting a white girlfriend’s parents was something that was discussed; it’s easy to see Chris as a proxy for a black audience, and I felt somewhat vindicated by hearing it talked about so openly by the people most affected by these issues.

On a superficial level, I felt like there was a message embedded in the storyline just for me, or at least for (some) white people who might fall foul of this particular faux-pas.

This running gag comes in the form of the well-meaning but ill-advised comments from white characters, such as ‘I would have voted for Obama for a third time!’ and ‘I know Tiger Woods. Love Tiger! Great man,’ and so on. Even the implicit metaphor of a blind white man who claims he doesn’t care about race (‘I don’t see colour.’) I feel like there was a rather unsubtle message encoded in this dialogue: ‘dear white people, you know those things you say to try to relate or make us accept you? Just don’t.’

Get Out has a black audience in mind, while expertly avoiding the shameful pitfalls of Blaxploitation cinema, and on that merit alone it is worthy of praise.

I dearly want Get Out to be a mainstream commercial and critical success, and to act as a waypoint on the road towards major production companies not seeing racial minorities in starring roles as a ‘threat to profits,’ although that isn’t the only reason.

I want it to succeed because it is a genuinely good film. I haven’t enjoyed a contemporary horror film this much for a while. It was remarkably emotionally involving for a horror; my heart rose and sank rapidly at points, I felt powerful pity and horror for some of the unfortunate minor characters, and the empathy the audience – of any race – feels for Chris and what he represents is real and readily accessible.

(Also on Letterboxd)

From The Hip #1 – 11 Feb 2017, London (Stratford, King’s Cross, Marylebone, Baker Street)

From The Hip is a series I started, almost accidentally, when I had a spare rainy afternoon in London to kill. I strapped a 35mm Prime lens onto my DSLR, and wandered out into the rain. This was maybe a year or so ago, probably more; I find that time in London speeds up and slows down of its own accord, oblivious to the confusion of its inhabitants. Since then, I’ve done a few more shoots, and had yet to share any of the photos.

The general premise of From The Hip is to take photos without using the viewfinder – shooting ‘from the hip’ – but includes a few other criteria; when you actively set out to take ‘bad’ photos, I found it best to adopt an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. I set the ISO to 3200+ not only to reduce the shutter speed but to achieve the kind of grain you’d see in vintage 35mm film prints blown up too large.

I set my camera to black-and-white capture and used a 35mm prime lens with a red filter for added contrast. Occasionally, I even set the camera to full manual mode and guessed the shutter speed and aperture size. I vaguely considered switching to manual focus too, but without being able to see the focus meter in the viewfinder, I decided against it. If the photos were already going to be black-and-white, grainy, underexposed, and too sharp, they could at least be in focus.

Master Mixtape

I’ve been working on something for the last two years or so: a playlist, but not just your common or garden ‘predrinks’ or ‘house’ playlist. This one is something else, this is a big one.

The Master Mixtape is a project of mine to create a playlist comprising a track by every artist I come across, with few exceptions. It’s now passed the 500 tracks mark, weighing in at 39 hours and 9 minutes in length, so I’m unleashing it upon the world, in what will no doubt go down as one of the great meritorious epochs in music history, here on my anaemic and all-but-silent blog.

If you just want to hear what I’m talking about without reading all this waffle, then go ahead, I don’t blame you at all.

At this point, 500 songs in, it’s become more eccentric and esoteric than I could have ever hoped: from Björk to Blind Guardian; Bon Iver to blink-182, and Beastie Boys to Biffy Clyro, not even leaving the Bs, I’ve stumbled across more artists than I can comprehend and, more importantly, discovered some great music buried in the obscurities of Spotify.

What can you expect? The short answer is ‘a bit of everything’. I think there are examples of music from almost all of the broad genres, many subgenres too, and plenty of stuff that falls in the overlap. To move from B to C, I’ve included songs by CHVRCHES, Coldplay, Chairlift, Céline Dion, Cradle of Filth, Current Value, and The Colourist; all disparate and diverse in more ways than simply their genre.

I haven’t set rigid criteria for inclusion, as such; although I try to add a song by every artist I encounter, I’ve had a few flexible rules that exist only as long as I need them to. Please appreciate how I try hard to make out that there are actual rules, and that I’ve not just arbitrarily excluded or included tracks because I want to.

Firstly, I have to actually like or at least appreciate the artist. This is sort of subjective, of course; I have music in this list by artists I haven’t really listened to in 10 years, but I would still consider to be music I like. Similarly, I haven’t gone out of my way to include artists I know exist but would never listen to. Country music fans, feel free to hurl abuse at me right now.

Secondly, cultural awareness. I wanted this playlist to be actually enjoyable, or at least interesting; something which people could enjoy working away at listening to. Let’s say you’ve just finished a four-track tour de force of Danger, Danny Byrd, Darkside, and Daughter, then Darude’s Sandstorm blasts crassly into your earholes. I’d forgive you for thinking that I’d constructed the most labour-intensive internet joke ever, but the reality is that its presence just wouldn’t feel right to me. The song’s a joke now; nothing more. Go to literally any YouTube video and enter the comment ‘what song is that?’ and you’ll find out why. That said, I’ve included Bag Raiders’ Shooting Stars which, if you’ve been on certain corners of Reddit recently, you will recognise as the centerpiece of a current trend in the ever-changing repertoire of memes on that site.

Thirdly, no comedy or nostalgia tracks. Eifel 65 is out, straight away, along with 2 Unlimited, Ace of Base, and all that other garbage 90s dance music which is now so culturally steeped in its own foetid juices that it belongs only to 90s-themed parties, the soundtracks of tongue-in-cheek TV documentaries about the 90s, and absolutely nowhere else.

Fourthly, go easy on the Dancehall, and other genres of wildly prodigious and barely distinguishable music. I’ve got some Jamaican music on my Spotify, not going to lie; contemporary Dancehall is the bastard offspring of reggae, trap, and hip-hop and I hate to love to hate to love it, but what else are you going to listen to when there’s rum on the table? The problem is that there are thousands of Dancehall ‘artists’ of varying degrees of recognition and professionalism, and the riddim remix releases of every popular track are monstrous in number and quality. The same goes for Garage and Grime, among others.

Fifthly, and maybe following on from the latter, I’ve made a few decisions regarding the extremes of certain genres. I’ve actively excluded a few of the most outrageous – not as in ‘oh Margerie how outrageous! We must call the authorities!’, but as in ‘what the hell was that? Is my headphone jack broken? Is there a burst of solar radiation making my Senns trip out?’ – artists. Metal is a great example of this; there is some beautiful music in the genre, but there are some artists whose white-noise offerings are made yet more offensive – to the senses, not just morals – when you Google the ‘lyrics’, or even the band’s name, in some cases.

Sixthly, no remixes. That’s another playlist for another time.

(Incidentally, if you were curious as to when the spell checker would start rejecting my lazy efforts to cannibalise ordinal numbers into adverbs, the threshold is ‘eleventhly’.)

In short, this playlist contains whatever I want it to contain; there are vague stipulations that it has to be music I like, or at least would listen to, alongside transient capricious exclusions based on whims, but this is the most inclusive and diverse playlist I could construct, which is what I set out to do.

I’m always stumbling upon new veins of music, so I’ll be keeping this updated as I go, or for as long as I remember/have the interest.

Master Mixtape, on Spotify (Listen on shuffle, or alphabetically, it makes no difference.)

Carrie

More a tragedy than a horror, Carrie tells the story of a bullied and ostracised high school student whose torrid torment in school is surpassed only by her mother’s uniquely extreme religious fanaticism at home. Almost from the start, we know Carrie has some unusual powers, albeit underdeveloped, but by the end of the story, her phenomenal telekinetic and telepathic powers are subject to intense media coverage and academic scrutiny for the very worst of reasons.

Carrie was published 43 years ago, and not only have there have been at least two mainstream film adaptations and a musical since then, but the book cover itself contains plot hints, so before you cry foul about spoilers, know that Carrie isn’t about what Carrie does, so much as *why*; what forces her over the edge.

Foreshadowing is early and eager; from the immediate construction of the plot arch in that infamous first chapter, the signs of Carrie’s power, and the eventual extent of their use is hinted at. This is to the story’s credit; without the teasing and tantalising, the audience might be fooled into thinking that Carrie is the villain of the piece, rather than an extremely ambiguous anti-hero. The use of excerpts from court transcripts, AP tickers, books, and other retrospective publications written about ‘Prom Night’, serves to remind the audience again and again that the story is not going to end well, and that we much read on to discover why, and indeed how bad that end is going to be.

What sets Carrie aside from so many other high school novels is the departure from well-trodden narrative tropes and overused character archetypes inherent. Although we can see some of the usual battery of high school characters in place – jocks, popular kids, plastics, nerds, and outcasts – the individual characters are cleverly elevated to something more than their archetype. For example, Tommy Ross, the popular jock who, despite the poor history of his stereotype, is also a high achiever and, to quote one incredulous report repeated in the story, a ‘socially conscious young man‘. Chris Hargensen, for all that she resembles Regina George of Mean Girls, doesn’t so much alter her stereotype as embrace and intensify it, specifically her cunning, willfully abusive relationship with Billy Nolan, and her pursuit of popularity – and subsequently vengeance – at all costs.

Also, (super spoilers) everybody dies, and that’s gutsy. I can’t stress this enough; the level of destruction and death is terrifying to contemplate, and it’s to King’s credit that he actually went through with killing 450 people, many of whom were high school students, and burning down a town, rather than losing his nerve and ‘saving’ Carrie at the last minute.

While I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite King novel, it’s definitely up there.

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

A radical approach to the time-travel/loop genre. Harry August is one of a few humans who, upon death, is reborn at the same time, place, and parentage, but with all the memories of their previous lives. With this knowledge, they can change the course of human history, strive to better the species, cause catastrophes or create new worlds; pursue the most hedonistic desires, jump-start technological development, and experiment wildly with the fabric of humanity… or just go and fight in World Wars for the sheer fun of it.

To say I was gripped by this book is an understatement. It had me in a fatal stranglehold from the first page.

When a message, trickling back through time, warns him that the world is ending sooner and sooner, Harry mounts an epic effort to prevent it, but stopping someone from wiping out humanity – its past, present, and future – can be a little complicated when you and your enemy can’t truly die.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a mind-bending masterpiece of a novel, spanning around a thousand years, focussing on just a handful of people in various ‘lives’ during this time, all encased in glee-filled indulgence in speculative history.

Lolita

Lolita is a controversial novel; there’s no denying that. My time reading Lolita has been necessarily surreptitious and discreet, for the simple reason that this novel is erroneously judged by its critics, often in ignorance, as somewhere between ‘subversive erotica’ and ‘a paedophile’s handbook’, both of which are phrases I have heard used to describe Lolita, and both of which are terminally inaccurate.

I want to make this plain: Lolita no more glamourises and encourages paedophilia than Trainspotting glamourises and encourages heroin use. (It doesn’t. At all.)

Humbert is variously described, even by himself, as a ‘pervert’, ‘horrible’, ‘abject’, and ‘a shining example of moral leprosy’. Dolores, even as the legal victim, has a history of abuse and often of complicity, although this is hardly an excuse as much as an explanation of her consent.

I would certainly not describe Lolita as an ‘erotic’ novel, barely even a novel with erotic motifs; all that detail is conspicuously lacking, and the focus of the narrative is shifted purely onto their difficult and dangerous relationship – both as parent and step-child, and later as ‘lovers’ – told through the highly unreliable lens of Humbert’s paranoid psyche.

Starting as a tortured story of a lonely foreigner before developing into a storm of emotional instability and introspective mayhem, Lolitafollows the creatively anonymised Humbert Humbert as he seeks to either gratify or cure himself of his ‘pederosis’. When meeting Charlotte Haze with the unenthusiastic intention of become her lodger, he meets and falls in love with her 12-year-old daughter, Dolores – nicknamed Lolita. Discovering every intricacy of the plot was a genuine pleasure of which I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone else, so I’ll leave it at that.

Lolita shocked me with its stunning prose, its sardonic commentary, its solid story, its beautifully painted characters, its subversive yet compelling nature, its sarcastic observations of America, and its sheer frank audacity.

From a literary perspective, it is nothing short of a masterpiece; every sentence is constructed with glorious succinct precision and wit, and a luxurious love of language. The narrative is both clear and sufficiently vague so as to provoke intrigue, but never to masquerade confusion or cryptic monologuing as ironic mystery, or at least almost never.

I found it charming in places, and horribly unsettling in others – though not for reasons many who have not read the book might expect – increasingly shot through with fear, doubt, and melancholy.

Misery

I know it’s cliche to say this, but this film is not as scary or as good as the book.

Although the film adaptation is scary, creepy, dark, and unnerving in its own way, the book exudes a visceral and insidious terror that devours the story from the inside out, and cannot be adequately described to someone who hasn’t read it and experienced it for themselves. It’s easily Stephen King’s most terrifying work, while being one of the few to feature literally no supernatural elements.

The film slots into that mid-budget range that seemed popular in the late-80s/early-90s, but has all but vanished from Hollywood now. Rob Reiner provides mediocre direction, James Caan’s portrayal of Sheldon is tepid at best, and although Kathy Bates is absolutely on form as Annie Wilkes, everything is ultimately limited by the adaptation of the story itself.

Too many extra elements and characters were shoe-horned in to appeal to the contemporary cinema zeitgeist, all at the expense of the story to be told, and the horror therein.

Frankly, I think Misery is ripe for a remake. Mainstream 80s cinema seems to contain so much spoon-feeding for the audience, and although I’m aware that many mainstream films released today are just as bad, filmmakers these days can get away with far more oblique offerings, such as Upstream Colour, The Master, Under the Skin, and Frank, an atmosphere for which the core of Misery seems well suited.

There are dozens of great contemporary filmmakers who could spin an exceptional low-to-mid budget adaptation in this style, with a more taut, sharp narrative truer to the novel, and with less of the cutesy parochial Reiner-esque intrusions.

Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racists

2015-05-05 16.42.13The subject of Islam in the world at the moment is a subject mired in labyrinthine historical and sociological complexity, and surrounded by constant irrational spittle-flying vitriol from all sides. Much as I would love to write a long introduction about the incessant and belligerent labelling and daft assumptions that fly in all directions, I just don’t have the time or inclination.

So I’m not going to write much about this, only to say that I’m tired of this fight, and the only voices I find even slightly compelling are those who talk in wise Dumbledorian tones, saying ‘now calm down, sit down, use your inside voice, and let’s just talk about this.’

I was quite affected by the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January this year, partly because the publication was a mainstay of shelves everywhere I went in France for a year and I have several well-loved copies lying around, but also because it epitomises this whole issue. The publication satirises and mocks every religion without prejudice, making it rather egalitarian in that way, but it was its fun-poking of Islam that ultimately brought it the most trouble.

In much the same way as in the aftermath of Lee Rigby’s murder, every ISIS atrocity, and even the 9/11 attacks, questions come forward like ‘what is a true Muslim?’ ‘Is it okay to mock someone’s religion?’ ‘Is it okay to be offended when your faith is mocked?’ ‘Is freedom of speech really a right, or should blasphemy or offensive speech be illegal?’ ‘Should Muslims be allowed to spread throughout the world?’ ‘What can we say or do without offending people?’

My own thoughts on these questions are probably just as confused and definitely just as irrelevant as everyone else’s, but sometimes there is a ray of lucidity and understanding, or even enlightenment that seems to shine through the haze.

Two days before his death, Stéphane Charbonnier – journalist and cartoonist, notably the late director of Charlie Hebdo, killed in the January attacks – completed a letter, published in book form, in response to the constant accusations of racism Charlie Hebdo received as a result of its mocking of Islam.

The copy I ordered arrived this morning, and I haven’t had time to read the book yet, but I have dipped into it, and if the two page foreword is anything to go by, then I think this may well be as clear and concise an explanation as we can hope for on this subject, and I look forward to it.

I’ve translated the foreword into English – as best I can – for those who are interested, as follows:

 

If you think that criticising religion is racism,

If you think that ‘Islam’ is the name of a people group,

If you think that people can make fun of everything except what is sacred to you,

If you think that condemning people for blasphemy will open the door to paradise,

If you think that humour is incompatible with Islam,

If you think that a cartoon is more dangerous than an American drone,

If you think that Muslims are incapable of understanding irony and subtle humour [‘le second degré’. Might have mistranslated, but seems to make sense],

If you think that the atheists of the Left are playing into the hands of fascists and xenophobes,

If you think that a person born to Muslim parents can only be a Muslim,

If you think that you know how many Muslims there are in France,

If you think that we must classify people by their religion,

If you think that popularising the notion of islamophobia is the best way to defend Islam,

If you think that defending Islam is the best way to defend Muslims,

If you think that the Quran forbids drawing the Prophet Mohammed,

If you think that drawing a funny cartoon of a jihadist in a ridiculous position is an insult to Islam,

If you think that fascists are predominantly attacking Muslims when they target an Arab,

If you think that every community should have its own dedicated anti-racism organisation,

If you think that islamophobia is just like anti-Semitism,

If you think that the Zionists who run the world paid a negro [un nègre; avoiding the ‘n-word’, but that’s what this means] to write this book,

Then you should read this, because this letter was written for you.

Whiplash (2014)

An unceasingly frenetic, exhilarating, and thrilling film which literally had me holding my breath for minutes at a time.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, the naïve yet naturally talented drummer, freshly enrolled in one of the best music colleges in America, and eager to prove himself.

J. K. Simmons plays Fletcher, the sledgehammer to Andrew’s statuette. Brutal, barbaric, savage, and tyrannical, Fletcher wages an unceasing campaign of psychological and physical abuse on his band members in order to elicit their absolute maximum potential, and push them beyond what anyone expects of them. The terror radiating from Fletcher is massive. All-encompassing.

The story tracks Andrew’s progress in the Studio band, conducted by Fletcher, as he pushes them to greater and greater extremes, and plays complex psychological games in order to completely demoralise them and extract almost impossible feats of musical performance.

Aside from having an absolutely perfect lead-support character dynamic, <em>Whiplash</em> achieves something which so many films fail: it never once drops tempo – fittingly – without meaning to do so.

The pace of the film is blindingly fast and extraordinarily tense for the entirety of the first two acts, and most of the third, only dropping its rocketing pace for the odd second to compound tension and maximise brutality.

Like many two-person character play films, the story centres almost entirely around Andrew and Fletcher, and how their chaotic and dysfunctional relationship affects one another.

Although I found the construction and execution of Andrew’s character to be nothing special, Simmons’ portrayal of Fletcher is positively electrifying and exudes a palpable field of tension and terror that extends out of the screen and notably touches the audience.

Throughout the start of first act, there are tiny visual beats where the characters and audience catch a glimpse of Fletcher’s shadow behind a door, or see him catch Andrew peeking through a window on a rehearsal and so on, and the sensation of fear is real, and powerful. This is when Fletcher is only on screen for a split second, if at all; when he is in full horrifying glory, it is so much worse.

I went into <em>Whiplash</em> expecting to see a watered-down Holywood-friendly facsimile of Vernon Schillinger, from the HBO series <em>Oz</em>, an apparently similar character first portrayed by Simmons almost two decades ago. However, even though <em>Oz</em> is one of the greatest prison dramas ever made, and Schillinger is undeniably scary as a serial rapist, vehement racist, and domineering patriarch with a power complex, I don’t find Schillinger half as terrifying as Fletcher.

I do not say this lightly: no one has ever been more deserving of an Oscar than J. K. Simmons with his portrayal of Fletcher. No one. There have been those of equal merit, but I cannot recall a character portrayal of superior commitment and perfection.

What few technical and narrative faults <em>Whiplash</em> has are burned away by the searing white heat of J. K. Simmons’ literally awesome portrayal of Fletcher.

But, loath as I am to say this, there are some faults. Luckily, they are minor. Teller’s performance is great, but not extraordinary. A minimalist story can be beneficial in films focussing on one specific human relationship, but there are times where I felt I wanted more from it.

I found the lack of female characters disturbing, but not half as disturbing as the fact that the only female character meriting a name was nothing more than a half-baked love interest who dissolves quickly into the wings, never to be seen again. I suppose this is to further accentuate Andrew’s commitment to – and obsession with – drumming, but it is a little worrying nonetheless.

My major concern, however, and <strong>this is a spoiler, as will be this entire paragraph</em>, is that in the final scene, almost the final sequence of shots, the expressions exchanged between Fletcher and Andrew paint a clear picture of a man who realises that brutal, unyielding torment and vindictive psychological bullying is the only way to draw true talent out of an otherwise unsatisfactorily motivated person; that one must utterly destroy something in order to build it back stronger. There can be no doubt that despite Fletcher’s sudden and gut-wrenching betrayal at the beginning of the last scene, Andrew is only spurred on because of this, accepting his treatment, and vindicating Fletcher’s abuse. That, to me, is troubling.

But that is what this film is about; pushing someone beyond what they thought were their limits at all costs, and although we see how that can go horribly wrong (Fletcher’s phone call) sometimes it can go phenomenally well.

I usually like to conclude my reviews with some summation of everything I’ve said, coupled with a non-committal recommendation to either consider seeing the film, or not to bother. However, this time, all I will say is this: if you do watch <em>Whiplash</em>, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do, try to remember to breathe.