WEIRDLAND: Hitchcock's films, "Whiplash": masterpieces of performance anxiety

Monday, March 07, 2016

Hitchcock's films, "Whiplash": masterpieces of performance anxiety

“The 39 Steps” is a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Several of the particularly Hitchcockian-features in the film include his us of the “icy, blonde female” as a leading character and his own participation in the film. The film was the first Hitchcock film based upon the idea of an “innocent man on the run,” such as Saboteur and North by Northwest. Scholars of his films regard this film as one of his best variations upon this particular theme. In 1999 it came in 4th in a BFI poll of British films and in 2004 Total Film named it the 21st greatest British film of all time.

This will be the first of four major Hitchcock films shown by FOLA this month to demonstrate the character and growth of the great director’s talent. It will feature a brief introduction to Hitchcock by film expert Rick Winston who will discuss the evolution of Hitchcock’s craft, his favorite themes, his relationship with his collaborators, and his wry sense of humor no matter how grisly the subject matter. Mr. Winston is coming to Ludlow for this event courtesy of the Vermont Humanities Council.

Following this film, FOLA will be featuring three other great Hitchcock movies: March 12, “Rebecca;” March 19, “Vertigo;” and March 26, “The Birds.” Source:

François Truffaut’s besottedness (like that of his pals Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol) came out of a cinematic intelligence. First truth: there is more to Hitchcock than meets the eye and ear. (Don’t forget the ear. The train whistle in The 39 Steps, the tolling bell in Vertigo, the “Knife . . . knife” speech in Blackmail). Second truth: that “more” is expressed, nonetheless, through overwhelmingly eye-and-ear means. Sound, picture, symbol; juxtaposition of images; pure cinema. Not screeds of dialogue. Not star mummers mugging away. Not bestselling novels made box office.

What I came to sense and love in Hitchcock is this. He goes through the looking-glass. His films are about “ordinary” men or women travelling into mirror-world projections of themselves. His main characters think their adventures are taking them into another reality. But it isn’t. It’s their reality made large or oneiric. It’s an impish, punishing, cathartic reflection of their own personalities, fears, guilts, dreams. A journeyman would have made these shots zooms: quick, showy, pragmatically dramatic. Instead they have an organic, living feel — shot/reverse shot with a travelling camera —. A locked mystery is scary; a mystery about to be unlocked is scarier. Source:

Neyman (Miles Teller), like many a protagonist in pursuit of greatness, is asked to sacrifice for his own success. First to go is his dignity, as he absorbs Fletcher’s incessant barrage of insults, straying far from his drumming ability to his mother’s abandonment, and, most painfully, his father’s utterly average existence.  Shot by Sharone Meir, the exteriors, primarily lit in sickly greens, and reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s city paintings, depict a metropolis full of isolation. Even shots of the entire band tend to zoom in on Neyman, very rarely is the ensemble shown to share the frame. This is in part because Neyman either ignores or disdains all of his fellow musicians. The movie’s few interactions with those outside of the band act as critiques of Neyman’s closed-mindedness with varying results. 

For instance, his unapologetically brusque jilting of a nervous out-of-towner (Melissa Benoist) and his inability to win her back indicate the costs of his self-centeredness, self-aware as it may be. Other scenes are less interesting and feel more perfunctory, like an obligatory dinner scene with small-town cousins who just don’t get it. Source:

While most will rightfully be heralding Simmons as Whiplash‘s biggest asset, it is Teller who ultimately impresses the most. Chazelle presents most of the film in tight close ups of Andrew Neiman’s face, the majority of the time no words are even spoken to convey the tone of the scene — but with an apparent effortlessness Teller translates what he is suffering through to the audience without a word. The vacuum created by the lack of music in certain scenes also works amazingly to emphasize the loneliness and isolation of Andrew Neiman’s quest for greatness.

David Chazelle’s Whiplash is simply put, a masterpiece of performance anxiety. Whiplash‘s unflinching electricity will have you so tense in your seat, when the credits roll the impact will leave you both inspired and sore for days to come. Source:

David Chazelle: I think there’s a certain amount of damage that will always have been done. Fletcher will always think he won and Andrew will be a sad, empty shell of a person and will die in his 30s of a drug overdose. I have a very dark view of where it goes. That should have been a postscript at the end of the movie, “And at 30, he dies of a drug overdose.” It’s his funeral. And Fletcher is there. He gives the eulogy. “That ungrateful fucking brat.” Source:

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