Whiplash ★★★★★

Before my parents married, my father was studying to be a concert pianist at the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto; the upper echelon of musical academies up here in the Great White North. Before that, while still at home in New Brunswick, he would spend his weekends playing in a swing dance band; This is where he met my mum. He spent his weekday evenings practicing at home.

My grandfather, a colonel in the Canadian army, advocated his 7 children play instruments; violin or piano strongly encouraged. A well rounded individual required musical training. A proper career, in his view, consisted of military, medicine, or theology tracts. My Uncles Paul, Emery, and Ernie became Medical Doctors. My Aunt Alice, an RN. Oscar followed his father’s footsteps into Canadian Armed Forces. My Aunt Evelyn, a Catholic Nun. My Uncle Omer, an accountant. From what I understand that choice was tolerated; barely. Needless to say, my father’s choice of music as a vocation, even the lofty goal of a classically trained concert pianist, did not meet my grandfather’s exacting expectations and resulted in a rift between my father and his that was never mended.

My father never spoke to me about my grandfather. He'd passed away before I was born. What I did learn of him was from my mother, and that he was very demanding of all of his children. You were to be hard working and earnest. You were to get good grades. You were to practice social skills. You weren’t supposed to have fun. Although she never spoke ill of him, I could tell that my mum was not a huge fan of her father in law; especially as her own large family was so completely the opposite … they loved having fun, and didn’t care much about social status or lofty careers. They loved my dad. He fit right in.

Whiplash painted a picture of my father’s life growing up, but from a distorted perspective. He had the pressure to perform, the constant demands, and the harsh discipline; but not about the music. Music was the escape.

Whiplash also took my breath away. Both Teller and especially Simmons give electrifying performances with nothing being held back. I think I bonded with both characters so well because their combination of strengths and flaws made them honestly relatable. Simmons demanding perfection scarred by the accompanying pettiness. The first scene with the two of them together where Simmons simply turns away and walks out, only to come back for his coat. Did he really forget his coat, or did he just want to further drive the spike into Teller’s Andrew. I’ve always loved Simmons; particularly for his brilliantly droll comedic delivery. This is a whole new level, though. The intensity of his performance is something I would never have expected. Teller gets points for simply not being blown off the screen by Simmons wattage.

You also have to admire a film that achieve so much dramatic tension with only the slightest narrative. There’s no huge arc, there’s no big event. Even the music festival is rather downplayed, and seemed more like an evolution in the plot rather than a point of dramatic crescendo. No, Whiplash is a series of connected scenes. Those scenes evolve the drama, escalating it ever higher.

And the music; I felt swept back to my childhood and my father’s record player.

My father graduated from the conservatory and married my mother. He was a brilliant player, but he realized not quite brilliant enough to be the best. Only the best can make a living at being a concert pianist. He did the sensible thing and got a job to support his wife, and somewhat later, me. He went back to University, taking night classes while working a day job, and received his degree in business.

My father passed away many many years ago. My most vivid memory of him was him practicing the piano. Usually two hours a day, after he came home from work, and pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday. He would hardly ever play a complete piece; he would just go over and over a section, maybe playing the entire piece once before finishing for the day, but more often than not he didn't. I always wondered if it was because of my grandfather that all my father really did was practice. It was easy to tell he loved to play, but just as easy to tell that he was still striving for perfection, even though there was no longer anything at stake.

Although I took classical piano, and had to suffer through Royal Conservatory Exams, there was really no huge amount of pressure from my Dad. I quit just after barely passing my Grade 5. I don’t think it bothered him when I quit. He knew I didn’t have the gift, and in music, you can’t excel without it.

Musical ability passed me by, but it only skipped me. My son has the gift. He’s a drummer.

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