Montgomery Clift’s Chuck Glover, a modern man, finds himself in the midst of a dated landscape with a forward-thinking mind-set, making him a very commendable cinematic character at the centre of this wonderful 1960 modernity drama from Hollywood master director Elia Kazan.

With a great change sweeping through America by the late 1950’s, Wild River came at a time where some doubted the Government’s initiatives, and racial injustice took over headlines. The 1930s setting that Elia Kazan’s film takes place in is an archaic, bigoted one, prone to debate. The depiction of such morals thirty years after 1930 – and now eighty-five years after – shocked and enraged; Kazan’s power is to realistically portray these events, attempting a timeless, non-biased approach to them.

Wild River has had such a great influence on the country-folk vs the Government storyline that its blood still pumps through modern day cinema. Take Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, about Matt Damon’s fracking salesman trying to persuade a local town to sell some of their land. This, compared to Clift’s Tennessee Valley Authority buying people off their land in order to flood it and build a dam, is along the same lines decades down the line. Not only does the story allow for contemporary audiences to and enjoy it without jarring context, but it is shot and acted in a very modern manner. Many older films have the tint of age over their aesthetic, the notion that this is from a long time ago and difficult to engage with, but Wild River is consistently absorbing.

There are a few drags in the plot though, with a love story that feels forced, yet Kazan has a very meticulous handling of narrative. The 110 minute run-time passes by in a flash for the most part, with a satisfying ending that neatly ties everything up. Coming from the director of On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden, there shouldn’t be much doubt as to the tactful handling of humanity. Chuck is, on paper, a wooden product of the “system”, trying to take the land off of rural innocents. However, Clift, Kazan and writer Paul Osborn present him as a humble state employee. We watch him on tender-hooks, hopeful that he will succeed, especially as he loses so many battles. The abject realism, akin to John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath, draws you in, largely thanks to Clift’s performance.

Perhaps forgotten over time by wider audiences (despite its selection for preservation in the United States National Film Registry), the newly restored and released version of Wild River should hopefully elevate its status yet again. There is a lot of beauty and heart in the film, perfect for a Sunday afternoon watch. We often take for granted these studio films of old, but Wild River has never really had its due – do yourself a favour as a film fan and seek it out.

Hot on the heels of the superb Ganja & Hess re-release from The Eureka Classics Collection comes Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill a Mockingbird) elegantly lensed 1972 chiller The Other. Despite being less well known than the more shocking 70’s Gothic classics The Exorcist and The Omen, this is still a valuable film for it’s creepy and detailed characterisation, idyllic farmhouse location and elaborate long lens cinematography by Robert Surtees (Ben Hur, The Graduate.)

Amid a family whose misfortune is rife, the film centres on Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) a vulnerable boy with a bowl cut and a troublesome identical twin brother Holland (Martin Udvarnoky.) Niles and Holland have lost their father, who died in a barn accident and their mother has since become housebound and catatonic. Niles secretly harbours a ring that belonged to their father and we come to suspect that it possesses strange and dark qualities.

The family’s Russian grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen), is Niles’ closest companion. There is something desperate and intense in her character – well portrayed by Hagen – that is deeply unsettling. The primary tension in the film comes from the various situations Holland goads Niles into, as well as their relationship with snotty cousin Russell, who comes to a sticky end in the barn when he leaps into a pitchfork lodged in the hay bales. It is a film brimming with bottled up anxiety.

There is an overall sense of strangeness throughout The Other, and Mulligan and Surtees follow the action with virtuoso use of pans and zoom lenses. As can be seen in many low budget films of this era (particularly cheap Italian horrors), this is a camera style than can come off as unbearably clunky; however, the skill level witnessed here means the continually complex shooting style seems natural and relentless. Like cinematographer Surtees’ drama The Graduate from five years prior, The Other is a film with an original uneasiness.

Perhaps because of its similarities to superlative drama The Graduate however, The Other does not make for an exemplary horror film. In spite of some late twists and grisly developments in the plot, the film lacks a forceful and all-encompassing horror concept like the shocking The Exorcist, the disaster-ridden The Omen or the dread filled The Wicker Man.

Perhaps a closer relation is Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook: a horror film whose scares never quite live up to the exemplary aspects of craft and performance surrounding them. While it is entirely unjustified to decry a horror film for reaching for higher standards of drama and film art, it is that authentic sense of catastrophe that truly endures.

After last year’s success, the Festival of the Moving Image (FoMI) returns with a thrilling new programme. FoMI will run for four days between February 27th and March 2nd. The theme for this year’s festival is “Truth and Lies.” This theme has been chosen due to recent issues surrounding government surveillance and secrecy, such as WikiLeaks, the Snowden files, and the Guantanamo Diary. FoMI hopes to bring this kind of debate and discussion to the films chosen for this year’s festival. To ignite debate a distinguished group of speakers and films have been assembled.

The Q&A with director Mike Leigh will be a definite highlight of the festival. The BAFTA and Palme d’Or award winning director of Mr. Turner and Vera Drake, will be answering the audience’s questions following the screening of his film Secrets & Lies. This, perhaps his most acclaimed and loved film, will show how the theme of the festival corresponds to personal and everyday issues in this portrait of a highly recognisable reality.

There will also be a Q&A with director Jaco Van Dormael following the screening of his critically-acclaimed debut Toto le Heros. His films are often defined by physiologically complex and imaginative stories, and should correspond directly the issues the festival hopes to raise.

Other speakers include; Paul Donovan, the CEO of ODEON, Alissa Phillips the producer of Moneyball and Dracula Untold, and Jan Harlan the executive producer for both Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg.

The festival aptly opens with Laura Poitras’ extraordinary documentary Citizenfour, which centers around Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal. This acclaimed documentary recently won the Oscar for Best Documentary, as well as the Best Documentary Award at this year’s BAFTAs and will be followed by a discussion panel on the film.

The ethos of FoMI is to create an environment which fosters enjoyment and critical discussion around film. Festival-goers can expect a highly diverse and exciting line-up: from foreign language masterpieces, to indie shorts, to cult classics. Even those with the most eclectic tastes will find plenty of interest.

To buy tickets and day passes for the festival please click here. Please remember to read the terms and conditions for any purchased tickets.

(Disclaimer: The Festival program may change due to unforeseen events)

In a recent Indiewire interview, director Peter Strickland requested that he not be compared to David Lynch. His reasoning? It was a limited reference for “strangeness” used, he felt, by the younger constituency of his audience. Strickland, not afraid of comparisons though, seems happy providing his audience is looking for a wider context in which to discuss his films. The Duke of Burgundy, out this week, is the most recent.

Amongst more experienced cinemagoers, the frame of reference used to describe Strickland widens with every film. When the Transylvanian set Katalin Varga was released in 2009, it was received very favourably. In his review, Peter Bradshaw drew comparisons with the Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, citing the film’s environment and cast as similar (although he called Katalin Varga more “taut” and less “indulgent.”) At the time Strickland himself was very keen to highlight his reverence for Georgian iconoclast Sergei Parajanov, particularly the magical Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

When dealing with an interesting first time indie director, such critical connections are not entirely unexpected. Less predictable is the way in which Strickland’s subsequent films seem to have revived a fascination with underappreciated directors of bygone subgenres. This is precisely what has happened with film number two and three. The story for his second film Berberian Sound Studio (2012) is set inside a 70’s Italian dubbing theatre, dedicated to churning out soundtracks for Giallo films; Giallo (Italian for Yellow) refers to the 1970’s Italian horror films, based on cheap paperback novellas.

That Strickland made reference to such a distinct and overly ‘cult’ genre like Giallo helped adorn him with a reputation as a film buff’s director. Owing to the film’s use of underexposure and a heavy sound design, the David Lynch references rolled out, but the key generic touchstones were Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Strickland had traded-off the elegant poetics of Tarr and Parajanov for the visceral retro style of Giallo, meaning bold camera moves, prog rock soundtracks and baroque special effects.

Early on in the arrival of his latest feature The Duke of Burgundy, cinematic references were central to the discussion. The surprising name – less fashionable than the horror directors of the former film – was the late Spanish director Jess Franco. Franco was famed for his bold sex films, known for their exotic locations, stark nudity and unashamedly voyeuristic visual style. His filmography includes such outrageous titles as: Nightmares Come At Night (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973). Like Fulci his films reveal a visual flare, which is perhaps limited by the lowbrow genre in which he worked.

In these post-Tarantino years, there is a danger of treating a filmmaker like Strickland as one who exists exclusively inside a framework of intertextual references. This is a problem however, because found within each of his films is an intention not at all in line with that of their respective genre. While the Giallo genre’s major intent was to deal with spectacularly staged murders as Freudian outlets, Berberian Sound Studio is about becoming lost in a celluloid reality; tapping into the very modern theme of media overexposure. While Franco’s films primarily concern sexual stimulation, The Duke of Burgundy predominantly avoids exploitation, in favour of cyclical events that explore the dynamics of manipulation between two people; in fact the dynamic between the two female protagonists is much more reminiscent of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s radical gay melodrama The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).

But there is something else that has emerged consistently in Strickland’s films that transcends the subgenre trappings: the use of avant-garde film techniques (like those of Stan Brakhage – see Mothlight, 1963) to interrupt the film’s coherent language and assault the psyche of the viewer. Sometimes in Katalin Varga the sound design takes over from the visual narrative, zoning in on pure atmospherics, before proceeding with the story. In Berberian Sound Studio clips from the film that protagonist Gilderoy is working on (The Equestrian Vortex) interject into the story destroying the boundary between film and film-within-a-film. In The Duke of Burgundy there are stunning montages of Duke of Burgundy butterflies and their larvae, which forcefully invade the tense romantic plot between the two female lovers, creating a nightmarish first person experience.

In Strickland’s films there is room for fantasy of a bold and visionary kind too. The Duke of Burgundy is a film made up entirely of female characters that inhabit a lush and isolated world, with the plot revolving around two lesbian lovers. Like the largely male-dominated novels of writer William S. Burroughs (think 1959’s Naked Lunch or 1981’s Cities of the Red Night), the single gender dynamic creates for a reality of an entirely different nature – never banal, rich with conflict, yet somehow utopian. The film, like Burroughs’ books, asks us to look outside the heterosexual normalcy of society; this has a powerful, liberating and otherworldly effect.

Strickland’s films are very much inspired by the ideals of the radical artists of former decades. They may adopt generic blueprints of earlier styles, but only as a means of resurrecting a conscious expanding attitude towards art; an attitude that is often displaced in contemporary culture, by narrow, neat, satisfying entertainment value, which parasitically uses the facade of the ‘radical’ to repackage the familiar as something new (a staple method of advertising.)

Peter Strickland is a director keen to transport us to a place where cinema is a powerful art form that challenges our way of seeing. It is interesting to note that so far he has resisted from setting a feature in Britain. Katalin Varga was set and filmed in Romania, Berberian Sound Studio in Italy (although it was filmed in London’s Three Mills) and The Duke of Burgundy in Hungary. Sometimes you have to travel beyond your own space and time to discover something truly enlightening and cinema is the appropriate vessel for that voyage.

Read our review of The Duke of Burgundy by Rob Arnott here.

After the success of his previous Kickstarter campaign for The Dance of Reality, you can now help to Kickstart Alejandro Jodorowsky’s next film Endless Poetry by trading your money for poetic money (and more.)

With a track record that includes Fando Y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre and The Dance of Reality, as well as the “greatest film never made” Dune (subject of Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune) Endless Poetry is guaranteed to be something special from the now 86 year old director.

Click the image below to find out more:

“Fuck it, I’ll have the dessert”

That was the feeling you got when watching Peter Strickland’s previous film Berberian Sound Studio, a completely indulgent, self contained homage to his beloved Giallo horror films. There was no message about contemporary society to be relayed here, just an orgy of gaudy colours, creepy sounds and gore, straight out of a Dario Argento or Mario Bava film. Although you could level accusations of self indulgence at Strickland, it was also refreshing to see a film that enjoyed itself on its own terms, unwilling to pander to modern day cinema.

Strickland continues his nostalgic reminisces in his latest film The Duke of Burgundy. While Berberian took the Italian giallo horrors as its muse, Strickland looks to the softcore erotica of Jess Franco and 60’s/70’s Eastern European art cinema for inspiration. The narrative revolves around Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a domineering owner of a picturesque villa in a rural locale, and her submissive, timid maid Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), who arrives everyday by bicycle to do the chores. It quickly becomes clear that this is an S & M relationship, but as the film progresses the balance of power becomes increasingly confused.

The film is very atmospheric, its ethereal, dreamy air conjuring comparisons to staples such as Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Broadcast, the composers for Berberian, were hugely influenced by Valerie) and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The sets are deliciously decadent and decorative, while Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography is inventive and often beautiful, utilising many a soft focus shot, treated in the editing with cross fades. The score by Cat’s Eyes is also very evocative, using delicately psychedelic orchestration. Strickland has made a film for the senses, even going so far as to credit perfumers in the opening sequence, a tongue in cheek joke if there ever was one.

All this suggests The Duke of Burgundy should be a terrific, distinctive film…and yet, it’s not. While Berberian was ultimately little more than homage, it knew its limitations and kept the audience intrigued and involved to its end. Unfortunately Duke feels more like an exercise than a film, and there is not enough narrative drive here to keep the viewer enthralled. It’s a thin idea taken past its limit, testing the audience’s patience. The two central performances by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna are stilted and often wooden, struggling to deal with Strickland’s laboured dialogue.

There is not enough real psychological insight into the two characters here and it feels flimsy. A film maker like Bergman was brave enough to narrow his focus on just two characters and relished the claustrophobia, yet Strickland fails to elicit any real drama out of his leads or script. In interviews surrounding the film Strickland had stated a desire to make a film that doesn’t conform to ideas of good taste or sensibility, a film with the potential to be outrageous. Which is a shame, because he has made a film about sadomasochistic lesbian lovers which is deadly dull, and that is quite an achievement. Slow clap.

Ten years ago Werner Herzog released Grizzly Man, a found-footage documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a self-styled grizzly bear whisperer. Treadwell spent an astonishing 13 summers living amongst bears and filming his encounters with the dangerous creatures in the Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Tragically a bear killed him and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard in 2003, after they had amassed hundreds of hours of footage.

Herzog’s posthumous examination of Treadwell’s obsessively crafted self-image is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film and yet there is a limitation; Treadwell is not present to reflect for himself on his extreme life choices. Point and Shoot directed by Marshall Curry appears like the fortunate cousin of Grizzly Man, in which we find Matthew VanDyke (the film’s protagonist, cinematographer and producer), a similarly remarkable self-documentarian, prone to extremes, who lives to tell the tale.

Like Timothy Treadwell we discover an equally conflicted personality in Matthew VanDyke – a suburban American lay about, by his own admission – who following college decided to embark on a vast motorcycle journey across North Africa and the Middle East, which inadvertently lead him to become a Libyan revolutionary during the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. Prior to the revolution VanDyke had set out to make what could have been a narcissistic motorbike film of his own journey; what he documented however, amounts to more. Point and Shoot, constructed editorially by director Curry concerns warfare in the times of digital media, the price of freedom and the human need to mold our self-image. It also makes us wonder if Matthew VanDyke is entirely who he says he is.

An OCD sufferer, with symptoms at the severe end of the spectrum, VanDyke suggests that being in challenging situations helps alleviate his symptoms and gives him the feeling of living life more fully. This is clearly depicted in the freewheeling, often beautiful footage shot upon desolate roads in desert landscapes. He is a character who appears strangely comfortable being alone. However, a five-month stint in a Libyan prison – portrayed with animated point-of-view sequences – paints entirely the opposite picture, in which VanDyke’s mental state is pushed to the limits.

Intercut with VanDyke’s treasure trove of footage is material that Marshall Curry shot to lend greater context to the events in question. There is an interview with VanDyke himself, in which he speaks about his motivations and experiences, as well as an interview with his committed girlfriend Lauren Fischer who is semi-supportive of his goals on account of his supposedly strengthened character. There is something very clean cut about their interview responses, provoking the feeling that Curry could have dug further in his inquiry.

The most unexpected aspect of Point and Shoot is how VanDyke adapts to the war-torn conditions; he does so with the tuition of American soldiers who he befriends while biking across Afghanistan. They teach him how to operate various weapons. These skills, learned in situ, are then transferred to his newfound friends in Libya to aid the resistance, a story that feels only too familiar in Western-Middle Eastern political relations. The most human scenes in the film happen between VanDyke and friend Nuri Funas. Funas himself is something of a hippy, who in 1999 began to travel the world on foot to spread a message of peace. He believes wholeheartedly in his country’s revolution, but being a peace lover admits that he would not have wanted to kill Gaddafi himself.

The film does not scrutinise the wider implications of the American presence in the Middle East and is straightforward in its perspective on events leading to the overthrow of Gaddafi. The most compelling, but simultaneously confounding aspect of the film, is the very notion that someone could set themselves up as a freelance revolutionary, journalist and filmmaker in the region with no experience. As strange as the reality presented by Point and Shoot is, the film does make for a fascinating look at the kind of characters who converge in the midst of a revolution – whatever their true motive may be.

In case there was any doubt about the sheer relevance of Ava DuVernay’s exemplary Martin Luther King, Jr. drama Selma, it is expressed succinctly in the lyrics from the closing song Glory by Common (who acts in the film) and John Legend: “Resistance is us, That’s why Rosa sat on the bus, That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.” As we well know at the beginning of 2015, the struggle for black civil rights against the willingly violent powers-that-be is still not over.

The story of Dr. King’s civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama illuminates (with shocking clarity) the means by which black voices have been forcibly silenced from American democracy. We only need to recall the horrific choking death of Eric Garner – an asthmatic man who was arrested and subsequently killed by police, when he had in fact just broken up a fight – to see how incidents like these create a climate of fear, in attempt to demoralise and oppress a minority.

During the protests in Ferguson, ex-Philadelphia cop Capt. Ray Lewis explicitly stated an utterance that could so easily be applied to the time depicted in Selma: “I want to try to get a message to mainstream America that the system is corrupt, that police really are oppressing not only the black community, but also the whites. They’re an oppressive organization now controlled by the one percent of corporate America. Corporate America is using police forces as their mercenaries.” Chilling words, given how closely this description resembles the events of 1965 depicted in Selma.

Selma is fascinating, because it clearly illustrates the power dynamic that allows this systematic oppression to function; and it does so with a richly drawn cast and elegant visual identity. Much has been said already about the film, with specific historical details being debated thoroughly, such as the extent to which President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) supported, or subjugated the civil rights movement. Selma’s relationship with history is of course deserving of analysis, but its emotional power comes from a genuine sense of the uncanny.

With his lead performance David Oyelowo has given the screen a benchmark representation of Dr. King. It is no small task to portray any historical figure, let alone one so revered. Oyelowo captures the unique rhythmic cadences of Dr. King’s voice, and the preacher’s delivery that gave his speeches a lyrical power. One of the most fascinating elements of the performance is the suggested sense of mortal anxiety felt (but seemingly overcome) by Dr. King as he bravely takes on the state. This quality is integral to DuVernay’s interpretation of the story, as King contemplates what might become of his family should he die.

The film’s great strength is in how it dramatises the hardball tactics employed by Dr. King in order to advance the civil rights movement. Deaths are a tragic byproduct of this power struggle and DuVernay goes to great lengths to humanise every loss; this is in part owed to a script that affords each character space to become relatable. The film’s cast is also exemplary, with powerful turns from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper (who famously punched Selma Sheriff Jim Clark), Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy and Wendell Pierce as Rev. Hosea Williams.

Cinematographer Bradford Young’s colour pallet – faded sepias, naturalistic blues and crushed blacks – adorns the film with the melancholic qualities of an Edward Hopper painting (for the days) and The Godfather (at night). It is a beautiful film to look at and perhaps one of the finest uses of the Arri Alexa so far in feature filmmaking. The most impressive aspect of Young’s treatment, is that while the camera does evoke a time gone by, it retains a crucial sense of the now.

Through and through there is a timelessness to the filmmaking of Selma. It is a film that should, along with Twelve Years A Slave, The Butler and Belle, be celebrated for its fine cinematic storytelling and as a necessary examination of the folly of white supremacy and the solemnity of black resistance. Forget the transience of the awards season; Selma is a robust and elegant film and its impact will be felt for years to come.

As Spike Lee arrives on Vimeo on Demand with the crowdfunded horror Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, there couldn’t be a better time to revisit – and rightly celebrate – the film’s visceral and poetic predecessor Ganja & Hess in original form, directed by revered playwright, novelist, actor and filmmaker Bill Gunn.

What began as a low budget vampire flick – produced to cash in on the success of 1972’s Blaxploitation cult classic Blacula – became a fascinating parable on addiction & redemption. The film can also be seen as a blood relative of subsequent left-field vampire gems, including George A. Romero’s disturbing Martin (1977) and recently Jim Jarmusch’s elegant Only Lovers Left Alive (2014).

Ganja & Hess zones in on anthropologist Dr. Hess Green, portrayed with stoic detachment by Duane Jones, famous for his considerably different and impressively commanding lead role in Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968). Contradicting the oft-repeated mythology of the vampire transformation occurring due to a bite, Hess becomes immortal when his schizophrenic assistant George Meda (director Bill Gunn) stabs him with an ancient ceremonial dagger.

Ganja, played by the striking and elegant Marlene Clark, then arrives searching for the vanished George and hits it off with the attractively enigmatic Hess. In a similar spirit to Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s superb 1970 film Performance, the film takes on a dark and sensual air, as the pair hole up in Hess’ remote country house and indulge in a transgressive vampiric lifestyle, feeding on murder victims to satisfy their need for blood. This is contrasted with rousing footage of African American church services and dream sequences of tribal scenes, which accentuate the deathly turmoil of their vampiric state.

But plot does not dictate form in Ganja & Hess; Gunn’s approach to its assembly grew out of improvisation and inspiration rather than pre-ordained logic. It is important to note that this new Blu-ray and DVD release from Eureka Classics represents Gunn’s original cut of the film, which screened in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 1973, to great acclaim. This differs from the much circulated commercial edit, which was (for financial reasons) re-structured adhering to the original script, after predominantly white New York critics slammed the film with the withering reasoning that it “was not the time for a black art film.”

With the perspective afforded by hindsight, as well as the admission that racism played a role in the film’s original reception, it is clear to see that Ganja & Hess was at the cutting edge of American cinema in the 1970’s. The film blurred the boundaries between art cinema and horror and ushered in Bill Gunn as a daring & poetic director of African American cinema. The film can be seen as a relative of Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), or even Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971), in it’s disregard for traditional cinematic form and a need to break through longstanding modes of perception; a mission that is still entirely necessary today.

Damien Chazelle’s sophomore directorial effort Whiplash (which follows Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) has caused quite a stir already in critics and festival circles, and by the film’s end it is not difficult to see why. Here we see big, compelling, but not even remotely attractive performances from two actors, in their characters’ skin, playing a brutal game of one-upmanship in a terrifying battle over Jazz music as an art form.

Indeed, the relationship between young drumming protégée Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) and his unforgivingly tough mentor Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons) is a difficult watch at the best of times but it is equally a thrilling one. There is a real permeating sense of terror elicited by Simmons’ performance as the unrelenting band leader – at a top east-coast privileged music conservatoire – who over the course insults and attempts to maim his students, in an attempt to motivate the truly committed and extinguish those who don’t have the same fire as him. Meanwhile, the initially sympathetic Neyman becomes some kind of monster himself – adapting to the punishing perfectionism of his tutor – and turning into an equally obsessive beast in order to be “one of the greats”, like his hero Buddy Rich; he is expertly played by the young Teller.

It’s not surprising then that both are being tipped for Oscar nominations (and stand a strong chance of winning), given the visceral torture one puts through the other to achieve perfection, through hours of tedious practicing. As a musician myself who works in a highly distinguished music conservatoire, Chazelle captures the tedium and pain of rehearsal expertly well, ratcheting up the tension with Simmons’ terrifying ogre.

Whiplash is not without its problems however. At times the narrative clunks along just a little too conveniently: the use of foreshadowing and an off-putting “recap of everything you’ve seen so far” 3rd act plot point. Even more troubling is Simmons’ character as a homophobic, misogynistic bully. The repeated use of the word “faggot” amongst other charming terms, as well as repeated attempts to push Neyman to the brink (by repeatedly using the mother who abandoned him) in less than pleasant ways, gets a bit too cruel for entertainment’s sake.

While undoubtedly there are highly strung, highly driven people out there who use horrendous language and get away with it, it becomes problematic when Fletcher comes off as humorous. Worse so, when he appears vaguely heroic; he is given the opportunity to become sympathetic and redemptive, even after the audience has discovered that he may well have driven a previous student to suicide. The film is such a difficult and exciting watch, precisely because the two lead characters are so consistently ghastly.

But the constant undercurrent thread of the music itself is what underpins and drives Whiplash towards its thrilling conclusion. The film opens with a drum roll increasing in velocity with terrific force, setting the tone for large sways of the experience. The film is at its best when it’s highlighting the excruciating work it takes to become the best and the closing few moments are edge-of-your-seat stuff. Chazelle is careful to not give too much of the music away until this point – only highlighting titbits and the often exhausting rehearsals – so when we finally see the finished performance, complete with a new found sense of optimism, it is truly rousing, immersive stuff that captures what it must feel like to witness the real-life greats.

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