The Most Conservative Film I’ve Seen in Years

 

whiplash01I saw Birdman. Interesting movie. Michael Keaton was terrific. I never need to see it again. The first thing I did after watching Whiplash was to buy the Blu-ray.

What makes Whiplash so superb is that it doesn’t take the stock, convenient approach to its characters—the approach that a lesser film might have taken. A Whiplash in which J.K. Simmons’ Terence Fletcher is purely an evil, sadistic taskmaster and Miles Teller’s Andrew Nieman is simply the sympathetic underdog could have been a decent movie. Forgettable, but decent.

***Obvious spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Whiplash, don’t read any further***

The reason Whiplash is a great movie is that Nieman isn’t a one-dimensional, by-the-numbers protagonist. He’s a warts-and-all fledgling genius. The audience roots for him early on because there’s an awkwardness about him as he tries to navigate life at the Shaffer Conservatory. He also gains sympathy because of the abuse he takes from Dr. Fletcher.

Those sympathetic feelings are complicated when it becomes plain that Nieman can dish out abuse of his own.

He’s not just a scrappy kid who stands up to an overbearing authority figure. He’s a prodigy who callously dumps his girlfriend because he foresees her future interference with his ultimate goals. He’s a band member who alienates and distances himself from his fellow players on a regular basis. He’s a family member who belittles his cousin’s football accomplishments because they’re achieved at the Division III level.

In fact, I think a dinner scene that includes the mockery of his own relatives might be the key scene in the movie—or at least the key scene that doesn’t involve Dr. Fletcher.

That dinner includes a moment in which the plot could have veered off into vanilla storytelling, where Nieman’s discussion of his own accomplishments gets drowned out by the bravado of his cousins and their proud parents. Instead of continuing down that well-worn cinematic path by having Nieman sheepishly resign himself to being a tortured, under-appreciated genius, he speaks up. He then goes several steps further, taking his confidence into arrogance territory and causing the viewer to rethink who the “good guy” actually is in the scene. Moreover, Nieman makes some cruel yet compelling points about the nature of true success, largely at the expense of others at the table.

Cruel yet compelling: That’s the fascinating Dr. Fletcher. Like Nieman, he appears fairly one-dimensional at first blush. Black, not gray.

He ostensibly personifies much of what contemporary society hates. He verbally, psychologically, and, on one occasion, physically abuses Nieman. He’s Bobby Knight in a tight, black t-shirt. He berates his students constantly, using personal information against them, questioning and mocking their sexuality, and hurling ethnic slurs and folding chairs with equal dexterity.

He is, in short, that most lamentable, contemptible, irredeemable creature in twenty-first-century American life: The bully.

The essence of the movie is Fletcher’s philosophy, revealed to us in explicit detail during a scene late in the film. Fletcher, now fired by the Shaffer Conservatory thanks to Nieman’s anonymous testimony, explains that there was a very deliberate aim in his abrasive, caustic style:

I don’t think people understood what it was I was doing at Shaffer. I wasn’t there to conduct. Any [expletive] moron can wave his arms and keep people in tempo. I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them.

I believe that is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we’re depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong.  The next Charlie Parker . . . Parker’s a young kid, pretty good on the sax. Gets up to play at a cutting session, and he [expletives] it up. And Jones nearly decapitates him for it. And he’s laughed off-stage. Cries himself to sleep that night, but the next morning, what does he do? He practices. And he practices and he practices with one goal in mind, never to be laughed at again.

And a year later, he goes back to the Reno and he steps up on that stage, and plays the best [expletive] solo the world has ever heard. So, imagine if Jones had just said: “Well, that’s okay, Charlie. That was all right. Good job.” And then Charlie thinks to himself, “Well, [expletive], I did do a pretty good job.” End of story. No Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy.  But that’s just what the world wants now. People wonder why jazz is dying.

Emphasis mine.

In the final scene, Nieman realizes Fletcher’s abuse isn’t over. After being humiliated when Fletcher conducts a song for which Nieman has no sheet music, Nieman runs offstage, greeted by the warm embrace of his loving father. Again, a lesser movie probably continues along that trajectory, with the father and son leaving together after the son realizes that, hey, music’s not the most important thing in the world!

But this movie doesn’t do that.

Nieman returns to the stage, of course, and takes over. And he doesn’t do it to spite Fletcher. He does it to prove himself, once and for all. He does it to ascend to that first rung of genuine greatness—not against an angry Fletcher’s wishes, but in collaboration with an ultimately ecstatic Fletcher, who has finally discovered what he’s sought his entire career.

Here’s the crux of it . . .

Fletcher is a monster.

Fletcher is dangerous.

Fletcher is right.

I found myself nodding and agreeing with Fletcher as he explained his central thesis to Nieman in the bar. Like many people probably did, I had the “but it can go too far, right?” thought just as Nieman raised that same point with Fletcher. Fletcher explains that a Charlie Parker would never be discouraged by an imaginary line being crossed, because a Charlie Parker would never get discouraged, period. Nieman instantly recognizes the truth of that statement.

What we’re left with as viewers is the reality that, despite the seductive nature of an easy life free of conflict or stress or rejection or failure, it is precisely those conditions that extract greatness from us. The Fletcher character presents the most extreme form of that philosophy possible outside of a military setting, and he still winds up validated. Whether it’s worth crushing a thousand pieces of coal into dust in order to find that one, perfect diamond is a value judgment the viewer has to make for himself.

With all the talk/hand-wringing about American Sniper being a “conservative” film, I was amazed when I watched Whiplash that I hadn’t heard more commentary in that vein about Damien Chazelle’s story of Andrew Nieman and Dr. Fletcher.

Maybe it’s because the notion of man-made hardship maximizing potential has fallen so completely out-of-favor that it isn’t even recognized as an idea with a political label. It’s not “conservative,” or even “old-fashioned.” It’s not even “passe.” It’s merely “bad.”

The ever-expanding definition of “bullying” is so toxic as to silence those who might think some version, at least, of Fletcher’s methods have value. Today, anything we might call “bullying” (and there’s no doubt that Fletcher’s tactics correctly fall under that heading) is immediately dismissed as purely destructive and without value. There was a time when most of society accepted the opposite proposition.

Whiplash-1102.cr2Now, we’re left with a lot of people like Jim (Paul Reiser), Andrew’s father. Jim Neiman is the opposite of Fletcher: He’s kind, fun, supportive, understanding, and compassionate. He encourages his son to testify against Fletcher so that Fletcher can’t intimidate anyone else ever again.

Jim has a lot of positive qualities that we would want in a friend, a coworker, or an advocate. He’s a “modern” father, but he actually more closely resembles a traditional mother figure. On the other hand, Dr. Fletcher is quite obviously Andrew’s true father figure.

I was shocked when I came to the conclusion that Jim is very subtly the villain of the film.

Jim’s support of his son leads to Andrew Nieman putting his drum kit away. He gives up on his dreams because pursuing them was very difficult, both physically and emotionally. This is the easy path of which I spoke earlier. This is the path of dates with pretty co-eds from Fordham. This is the path of watching movies and eating popcorn with your dad. This is the path of normalcy.

But it is not the path of greatness.

Look at Jim’s life: He’s a high-school English teacher who fancies himself a writer but has never gotten anything published. He is who Andrew Nieman becomes if Andrew never talks to Fletcher again after leaving Shaffer. We can imagine it easily—the dusty drumkit that only comes out of storage when Andrew Nieman’s 1.5 kids start asking questions about it. Nieman finds a perfectly content, normal life, possibly as a middle school bandleader or as a high school music teacher or an insurance salesman who plays an odd gig here and there.

He and the world would never know what they were missing.

tragedy.

Fletcher, the monster, extracts this greatness. In the end, he’s a hero—albeit a nasty, mean one.

This is why I was surprised I hadn’t heard Whiplash bandied about as a movie that’s “too conservative.” I think it’s the most conservative critically-acclaimed film I’ve seen sinceThe Incredibles. The very important principle in Whiplash that is arguably the take-home message of the film is that, sometimes, we need nasty, mean people to do nasty, mean things to make us—and society—better.

That’s the contradiction that’s so difficult for many to admit, much less embrace. Those things that hurt our feelings, make us cry, enrage us, frustrate us, and—gasp!—lower our self-esteem in the short run can also sometimes make us the best version of ourselves that we could ever be in the long run.

Sometimes, in other words, the monster is the hero.

_______________

 

(Note: A version of this review originally appeared at my blog, here.)

There are 59 comments.

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  1. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    thumbs upthumbs up

    Saw the movie right before the Academy Awards; my husband and I were both blown away and have been talking about it ever since. Your review is terrific and codifies a lot of what’s been knocking around in my head.

    I don’t think you mentioned the line my husband keeps repeating: the WORST line in the English language is “good job” (that’s a paraphrase, did he say “destructive” instead?)”.

    • #1
  2. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Tom Garrett: Whether it’s worth crushing a thousand pieces of coal into dust in order to find that one, perfect diamond is a value judgment the viewer has to make for himself.

    I would like to say that people are not coal, nor are they diamonds in the rough to be crushed in an effort to see if they endure to be proven great or The Perfect One.

    I would not describe Fletcher as a bully. His tactics suggest to me that he is an abuser, plain and simple. Maybe the worst thing that has happened in the past 20 years is that abusers hide behind the false description that they are mere bullies.

    The fact that Andrew Niemann survived Fletcher’s abuse in no way condones that particular path, even if it appears successful. It only highlights Niemann’s particular, maybe even unique, refusal to be destroyed.

    That Niemann required such abuse to discover his greatness suggests an inherent weakness within himself. Must he have his greatness beaten out of him, if he did not willingly give it?

    As people, we may encounter life situations that purify us like fire, we may even prove great. But Fletcher moved beyond the pale of humanity in his instructional tactics. That society is willing to accept such abuse in exchange for ‘greatness’ brings me great grief.

    Of course, to each his own: subject yourself and your children to Fletcher’s kind of abuse. Hopefully, you’re a family of diamonds, and not mere coal.

    • #2
  3. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    I don’t entirely disagree with you Jules. Every one is different and responds differently. But I’ve seen a lot of young men come out the other side of boot camp and SEAL training, which I think is pretty brutal. Hard to put into words how much I’ve come come to appreciate the value of having a demanding and unforgiving taskmaster.

    • #3
  4. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Gee sounds like Derbyshire.

    • #4
  5. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Annefy:I don’t entirely disagree with you Jules. Every one is different and responds differently. But I’ve seen a lot of young men come out the other side of boot camp and SEAL training, which I think is pretty brutal. Hard to put into words how much I’ve come come to appreciate the value of having a demanding and unforgiving taskmaster.

    The preparation to be a soldier, to defend life and liberty, and face worse abuse than Fletcher handed out, may well require such tactics.

    G-d bless those who willingly submit to endure such training on our behalf. May G-d keep their body and soul safe, because whether or not they make it through boot camp with flying colors, their willingness to make the attempt, for our sake, demonstrates they are diamonds, even before they begin.

    While I can appreciate the arc of the story that endurance brings greatness, I believe normal life, outside of a soldier situation, does not demand anywhere near the intensity of training that Fletcher provided.

    Would that our soldiers could defend the homeland by refining their technique on a drum kit.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    I have a friend whose son was on an Olympic rowing team. He watched the film and said Fletcher wasn’t so bad. Not compared to his coaches.

    • #6
  7. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Could you identify the strand of conservatism you’re referring to, perhaps citing something from Burke, Coolidge, or Reagan? I’m happy to see this sort of heroic effort as admirable, but intensely destructive coaching in the pursuit of excellence seems most common in recent history on the far side of the Berlin Wall. Again, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It is hard to understand, though, why it is particularly conservative. There are many admirable qualities, such as a great appreciation for Plato or for musical talent, that can be held both by liberals and conservatives.

    • #7
  8. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    JOE: for me, it lies with the “good job” comment. That conservatism is not only a good effort, but results.

    • #8
  9. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    I agree that a lot of the left opposes good metrics today, but the creation of good metrics was a vital part, perhaps the defining part of the Progressive movement during the Progressive era, from Taylor to Ford.

    Conservatives value earned success, but opposition to the creation of supermen and the crushing of the weak was key vector in incorporating Catholic support into the conservative movement as the progressives backed eugenics.

    It was never the case in Soviet Russia, and is not the case in China today, that the education or employment systems gave impressive prizes for participation. Rather, Stakhanovite efforts were celebrated.
    Again, that’s not to say that all this stuff is wrong, just that it’s a form of pursuit of excellence with bipartisan support and bipartisan criticism.

    • #9
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I haven’t seen the film yet. But I wonder how all this tantrum throwing relates to a typically strict parent who is firm and demanding but not melodramatic or cruel. Is it Mr Fletcher’s tantrums that get results or his persistent and high demands?

    It’s interesting that you believe Niemann callously dumped his girlfriend because he’s a jerk. Did Fletcher not train him to be a jerk? Did Fletcher not teach him that the dignity of people is less important than worldly accomplishment?

    I don’t have an opinion either way on the application of boot camp techniques to general skill training. But one can be prodigious without being cruel.

    I myself am a lazy and wasteful musician who almost certainly would have benefited from greater discipline. But I have also experienced the destructive habit of judging my personal worth entirely by the quality of my music. Balance is merited.

    • #10
  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Basically, it’s alright to push someone through the meat grinder as long as what comes out on the other side is an admirable and peaceful human being.

    People aren’t mere machines and should not be simply used or shaped like impersonal tools. God doesn’t want soul-crushed geniuses.

    • #11
  12. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    It’s possible to push people beyond what’s expected of them and not be a malicious tyrant, but that is significantly easier than being fair minded.  It is also very easy to point to your successes, and not realize the destruction you’ve caused in finding The One.

    Fletcher reminds me of the Sobel character in Band of Brothers.  Yes, there was a method to his madness and it did achieve results, but at the same time the methods were flawed and destructive, costing many recruits their chance to fight in the war.

    It is easy to cull the herd indiscriminately and without mercy until you find The Chosen One.  Fletcher’s methods are not laudable; they may yield some visible results, but the costs are high, and also invisible.

    What we didn’t see from Fletcher was the genuinely talented students who wouldn’t put up with his bullshit.  It wouldn’t take much self respect to walk out of that practice room.  How many Miles Davises did he cost the world due to his caustic manner?

    No.  Fletcher is horrid, and those like him need a good ass-kicking.  Fletcher could encourage greatness without dissolving his victims in a torrent of bile to see who survives.  He choses to do that.  He could have been the tough-but-fair instructor.

    • #12
  13. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    If that’s so, it raises another question. Fletcher and Nieman’s story got us talking about all this. Would a story about two more balanced characters have got us thinking about these issues as deeply?

    • #13
  14. tom Member
    tom
    @TomGarrett

    James Of England:Could you identify the strand of conservatism you’re referring to, perhaps citing something from Burke, Coolidge, or Reagan? I’m happy to see this sort of heroic effort as admirable, but intensely destructive coaching in the pursuit of excellence seems most common in recent history on the far side of the Berlin Wall. Again, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It is hard to understand, though, why it is particularly conservative. There are many admirable qualities, such as a great appreciation for Plato or for musical talent, that can be held both by liberals and conservatives.

    I meant conservative in the sense of broad cultural mores, rather than a specific tenet of a philosophy of a particular person.  In the United States, it was taken as a given a generation or two ago that harsh conditions are necessary to extract the best from someone.  And I certainly didn’t mean to imply that only philosophical conservatives could appreciate Plato or musical talent.

    I want to reiterate that I think Fletcher is an extreme version of this “harsh conditions extract greatness” phenomenon.  And that makes sense from a storytelling perspective – movies about a “6” aren’t going to be as fascinating as movies about a “10.”  I also don’t condone everything he does.  But even behavior far less onerous than Fletcher’s would be grounds for condemnation among many elites today, and the over-arching point is one with which Americans at present are struggling: Does critical, demanding, harsh treatment have an upside?

    I say that it does, and I think many people are in denial about that reality.  I also think that a commitment to an old-fashioned idea like “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” is culturally conservative, at least in the USA of 2015.

    Thank you very much for reading.

    • #14
  15. tom Member
    tom
    @TomGarrett

    Instugator:Gee sounds like Derbyshire.

    I choose to take this as a compliment. :)  Either way, thank you very much for reading.  I don’t think I’m quite as grizzled as Mr. Derbyshire, but I have another 40 years or so to catch up to him in that department!

    • #15
  16. tom Member
    tom
    @TomGarrett

    Aaron Miller:If that’s so, it raises another question. Fletcher and Nieman’s story got us talking about all this. Would a story about two more balanced characters have got us thinking about these issues as deeply?

    That’s a great point – as I said in another comment, if Fletcher is a “6” on the harshness scale instead of a “10,” the movie is much less compelling.  I think an extreme example is much more provocative, and gets us thinking about things in terms of, “Ok, we might agree that Fletcher at his worst is too harsh . . . but even someone who’s three-fourths as harsh would have trouble avoiding condemnation in contemporary America.  And, more importantly, is there value in the idea of extracting greatness through pressure?”

    • #16
  17. tom Member
    tom
    @TomGarrett

    Jordan Wiegand:No. Fletcher is horrid, and those like him need a good ass-kicking. Fletcher could encourage greatness without dissolving his victims in a torrent of bile to see who survives. He choses to do that. He could have been the tough-but-fair instructor.

    I think there’s definitely a case to be made for this – I think it depends largely on the calculus of whether it’s “worth it” to crush dozens of kids in order to find the one true talent.  Two other points about the movie that play into that discussion a bit: One, the conversation with the ex-student (with the little girl) in the hall speaks to the surprising phenomenon that many students or players who get through that kind of instruction become fiercely loyal.

    Secondly, and I think this speaks to your point, the one issue I had with the movie was that it had the suicide victim be years removed from Fletcher’s instruction.  It seems to me that the scenario of someone getting through Fletcher’s band, becoming a major success, and then killing himself is far less likely than the scenario along the lines of what you reference: The kid who is shamed into crying and leaving the band after Fletcher bullies him into admitting he was out of tune (when he wasn’t) deciding to kill himself.

    My own take is that you’re correct in that Fletcher’s instruction is not only not for everyone, but it also does a lot of damage to certain personality types.  I don’t think I would have fared well or responded to that kind of instruction when I was an athlete or a student.  However, the point I want to reiterate is that Fletcher is an extreme version of something that wouldn’t be permitted even in a softer form in many contexts today.  I think there’s value in that kind of thing, and we’re trading in the type of person that sort of training begets in favor of entitled narcissists who are unable to handle any sort of criticism, adversity, or “trigger” that might produce a negative emotion.

    Thank you for reading.

    • #17
  18. tom Member
    tom
    @TomGarrett

    Jules PA:

    Tom Garrett: Whether it’s worth crushing a thousand pieces of coal into dust in order to find that one, perfect diamond is a value judgment the viewer has to make for himself.

    I would like to say that people are not coal, nor are they diamonds in the rough to be crushed in an effort to see if they endure to be proven great or The Perfect One.

    I would not describe Fletcher as a bully. His tactics suggest to me that he is an abuser, plain and simple. Maybe the worst thing that has happened in the past 20 years is that abusers hide behind the false description that they are mere bullies.

    The fact that Andrew Niemann survived Fletcher’s abuse in no way condones that particular path, even if it appears successful. It only highlights Niemann’s particular, maybe even unique, refusal to be destroyed.

    That Niemann required such abuse to discover his greatness suggests an inherent weakness within himself. Must he have his greatness beaten out of him, if he did not willingly give it?

    As people, we may encounter life situations that purify us like fire, we may even prove great. But Fletcher moved beyond the pale of humanity in his instructional tactics. That society is willing to accept such abuse in exchange for ‘greatness’ brings me great grief.

    Of course, to each his own: subject yourself and your children to Fletcher’s kind of abuse. Hopefully, you’re a family of diamonds, and not mere coal.

    There are a couple of points to unpack, here:

    1. I don’t think society is willing to accept behavior like Fletcher’s.  It won’t even accept behavior that falls short of what Fletcher does.  That’s the point – whether we lose more than we gain in that trade-off.

    2. I disagree that it’s “abuse” in the sense I think you may be using the word.  That is to say – Fletcher isn’t a masochist.  As the conversation at the bar indicates, he’s following a very precise plan in order to find the One Great Musician.  Despite the emotional trappings, I think it’s actually very calculated.

    3. Everyone in my family is 100% diamond. :)  But I don’t have it in me to be like Fletcher.  Even when I was coaching football, I was much more in the camp of not being particularly harsh.  However, that’s not the same thing as not seeing value in it.  And, if I had been coaching top-level players (analogous to the best music conservatory in the country) rather than random teenagers at a public high school, my attitude might have been slightly differently.  But I’ll never know!

    Thanks for your comment, and for reading.  I appreciate the conversation.

    • #18
  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Tom Garrett:

    [….] It seems to me that the scenario of someone getting through Fletcher’s band, becoming a major success, and then killing himself is far less likely than the scenario along the lines of what you reference: The kid who is shamed into crying and leaving the band after Fletcher bullies him into admitting he was out of tune (when he wasn’t) deciding to kill himself. [….]

    The movie’s scenario is believable to me. Fletcher created a habit of mind in that student. A healthy version of that habit would be a fierce determination full of driving passion and a resolve not to be deterred by frustration or by failure. An unhealthy version would be a self-abusive perception that one’s work is never sufficient or oneself is incurably lazy and spoiled.

    If a teacher instills in his students a self-abusive inability to be satisfied or a self-hatred, those destructive habits are as likely to crescendo many years later as they are to peak immediately.

    Whether or not that scenario works best from a storytelling perspective is another matter, though.

    • #19
  20. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Tom Garrett:

    Instugator:Gee sounds like Derbyshire.

    I choose to take this as a compliment. :) Either way, thank you very much for reading. I don’t think I’m quite as grizzled as Mr. Derbyshire, but I have another 40 years or so to catch up to him in that department!

    I meant Fletcher sounded like Derbyshire, but only from your description.

    • #20
  21. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Seconding virtually every word of this piece. I saw Whiplash a few weeks ago and have been contemplating a similar post ever since. With the proviso that I haven’t yet seen American Sniper, I consider Whiplash easily the most interesting and thought-provoking film of the last year.

    I’m always in the minority on these things, however. Last year I thought the same thing about Her.

    • #21
  22. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Perfect analysis of this film!

    It shows, for the first time I can recall, the concept of exceptionalism.   It shows that it comes from work.  Every middle school and high school student should have to watch this movie (instead of Bowling for Columbine, which was required viewing in my kids school).

    Regarding the scene where he broke up with his girlfriend, I nearly applauded.   I have expressed in the past that I wanted a scene like that in a movie.  I hate it when you see a character devoting his life to something, then a love interest comes along and says choose.  As you point out, they always choose the girl.  I was so happy to see him toss that selfish pooch to the side.

    • #22
  23. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Great review and analysis.  I saw the latter 3/4s of Whiplash on a flight.  The expurgated version.  My immediate reaction upon it finishing, other than being in a full sweat, was: I have got to see that again, in full, un-expurgated!

    I think the reason you’ve not heard any anti-Whiplash commentary from the usual suspects is because this sort of thing is not uncommonin the arts.  They know full well that it’s necessary sometimes.

    I had a similar experience with a teacher when I was a kid, although the key moment was in sport, not music, and he was not the same type of monster—by today’s definition—as Fletcher.  (He also wound up getting fired for teacherly misconduct.  Justifiably.)

    It was a key moment in my life: being forced via a 20-minute tirade of obscenity to overcome my fears.  I don’t even remember what my peers thought of the tirade, all I remember was the exhilaration.  Much like Andrew at the end of Whiplash.

    Thank heavens my teacher did what he did.

    Now my daughters have a drama and chorus teacher who’s a tyrant.  She brooks no dissent and pushes those kids hard.  They excel, and they love her for it.

    And many of the parents are horrified.

    She was in a bit of trouble with the administration, and then returned from the state choir championship with every first-place trophy from the competition, and the ultimate: The Esprit de Corp trophy.

    They looked great filling up the lobby to the school.

    • #23
  24. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    I think you get the scene with the apologia completely wrong. First, nobody beat the daylights out of Mozart or Shakespeare & they turned out ok. Secondly, this guy may be guilty for a suicide. Thirdly, the teacher here is not himself Mozart–you do not think to ask yourself whether he understands the genesis of Mozart?

    As right-wing politics goes, this guy is an atheist. He is Nietzsche for Americans. He applauds striving & furnishes it where democrats prefer indolence. That’s not quite conservative…

    As for the meaning of that scene, the teacher is admitting a fundamental defeat. He is a man who installs order in chaos. He is admitting that chaos is primary & order merely derivative. The emergence of men of the first rank is essentially unpredictable. The suffering of the schools is a necessary consequence of that fact. The production that matters here resembles giving birth to children more than it does making cars–there is something essentially unpredictable, maybe mysterious.

    If you want another way to look at what this teacher is doing, he is a man leading an army into war with the advice of Clausewitz guiding him.

    • #24
  25. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Titus Techera:…First, nobody beat the daylights out of Mozart or Shakespeare & they turned out ok….

    I think the whole point of the Fletcher character was to be on the edge.  Even at the last scene we don’t really know if he’s finally approved of Andrew, or if he’s just trying to get him the heck off the stage.

    We don’t know enough about Shakespeare, btw.  And Mozart was a child prodigy.

    A better example might be Beethoven: Immortal Beloved was a movie about the trials life put him through prior to his writing the 9th Symphony.  The scene when the symphony ended, and, stone-deaf, he stood with his back to the crowd brought tears to my eyes.

    This was a crowd that hated him at the beginning of the symphony, and was there to see him fail.

    • #25
  26. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @MattEdwards

    Thanks for publishing my inner thoughts when I watched this film for the first time.

    • #26
  27. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Tuck:

    Titus Techera:…First, nobody beat the daylights out of Mozart or Shakespeare & they turned out ok….

    I think the whole point of the Fletcher character was to be on the edge. Even at the last scene we don’t really know if he’s finally approved of Andrew, or if he’s just trying to get him the heck off the stage.

    Well, about that–see the rest of my comment. His activity as a teacher itself is premised on his knowing he is defeated…

    We don’t know enough about Shakespeare, btw. And Mozart was a child prodigy.

    You say that as if it is some kind of answer!

    A better example might be Beethoven: Immortal Beloved was a movie about the trials life put him through prior to his writing the 9th Symphony. The scene when the symphony ended, and, stone-deaf, he stood with his back to the crowd brought tears to my eyes.

    This was a crowd that hated him at the beginning of the symphony, and was there to see him fail.

    Beethoven’s life is not a condition of his doing his work, or you’ve not argued it is.

    The greatest painter, Rafael, is also unusually serene.

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  28. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    This reminds me of the somewhat modern concept of “flow” in regard to labors. It refers to the ability of masters (in any field – not just the arts) to perform effortlessly, in part due to innate aptitudes but mostly due to extensive training and experience which has changed conscious struggles into instinct and intuition.

    Titus mentions the apparent serenity of masters like Rafael. Few would believe that Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” are products of frustration and fury, though certainly other great works are.

    The point is that constant turmoil is neither necessary nor conducive to lasting productivity. Harsh training methods should result in something like flow, and not leave students in a perpetual state of aggression or trepidation. Eventually, the student should again be capable of relaxation and grace.

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  29. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Titus Techera:

    Tuck:

    Titus Techera:…First, nobody beat the daylights out of Mozart or Shakespeare & they turned out ok….

    You say that as if it is some kind of answer!

    Well, you can’t say “Nobody beat the daylights out of … Shakespeare”, because we know next-to-nothing about his childhood.  We do know corporal punishment for children was common at the time, so it’s a safe bet someone did “beat the daylights” out of him.

    Mozart was composing music as a fetus.  So it’s tough to say whether his parents had any impact.

    A better example might be Beethoven: Immortal Beloved was a movie about the trials life put him through prior to his writing the 9th Symphony. The scene when the symphony ended, and, stone-deaf, he stood with his back to the crowd brought tears to my eyes.

    This was a crowd that hated him at the beginning of the symphony, and was there to see him fail.

    Beethoven’s life is not a condition of his doing his work, or you’ve not argued it is.

    I didn’t, the movie did: “…was a movie about the trials life put him through prior to his writing the 9th Symphony….”

    The greatest painter, Rafael, is also unusually serene.

    That’s lovely.  No one is arguing that behavior like Fletcher’s is required!

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  30. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Tuck:Well, you can’t say “Nobody beat the daylights out of … Shakespeare”, because we know next-to-nothing about his childhood. We do know corporal punishment for children was common at the time, so it’s a safe bet someone did “beat the daylights” out of him.

    Whether every kid got beat up back then or whenever else does not matter: That would not make the difference between great artists & anyone else.

    As for Shakeseapre–if you cannot tell that he was tortured or not from his work, then does not that suggest to you that whether he was or not is irrelevant?

    Mozart was composing music as a fetus. So it’s tough to say whether his parents had any impact.

    Yeah, that’s precisely the point–nature prompts a kind of striving, but you can see the being & its powers without any torture!

    I didn’t, the movie did: “…was a movie about the trials life put him through prior to his writing the 9th Symphony….”

    That’s not an argument. It’s just a series of events. Whether the events in his life had anything to do with his 9th symphony is the question–that is to say, whether these events are causes of anything. If it turns out Churchill took up painting after fighting some war, I’ll tell you, I won’t believe the movie that tells me the war caused it…

    That’s lovely. No one is arguing that behavior like Fletcher’s is required!

    The teacher himself argues that! & his doing it is the proof itself that it is pointless. What the guy is trying to do is to make an argument about the relation between order & chaos. He wants to reintroduce chaos–that’s what’s so anti-democratic about him. He understands that if you think of art not like Rafael, but like people who use words like creativity–well, chaos is the condition of creativity, is it not?

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