Whiplash (2014)

From the very first scene of writer and director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, budding jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is presented as a man under pressure. Before we see him, we hear the rolling of his drum kit, getting faster and faster as he pushes himself to the limit, determined to improve and impress. When he is subsequently introduced to his formidable tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), he stops playing to greet him, only for Fletcher to ask why. He begins again, only to be challenged once more. Eventually, when Fletcher asks to hear Neiman’s rudiments in double time, he obliges, but becomes so engrossed that he does not initially see Fletcher leave the room. It is clear from the outset, then, that Neiman is not destined for an easy ride, and it’s this exchange that begins a dramatic student-teacher relationship. I was immediately both hooked and emotionally invested.

I felt my chest tighten seeing just how much pressure Neiman was under to succeed, as much from himself than anyone else. I shared in the intimidation he and his fellow Studio Band musicians felt in Fletcher’s presence, particularly when he is unleashing the full force of his fury upon them; Chazelle told Simmons to be “a monster, a gargoyle, an animal” during filming. He is established as a firm perfectionist who won’t think twice about punishing the band for rushing or dragging even by a fraction. His abuse is both physical and verbal, and we learn that a past student of his, Sean Casey, was driven to suicide as a result of his aggression. Nobody’s position in the band is safe, and many of the musicians are deliberately pushed to their physical limits in order to prove themselves. There are multiple scenes of sweat, blistered fingers and blood on the drums as they strive to play harder and faster to perfect a piece, and the sheer pain involved induced many a wince in me; I had never realised just what such determination can drive people to do. The strain is mental as well as physical; Neiman breaks up with his girlfriend and crawls out of the wreckage of a car accident in order to join the band at a performance, even though he is covered in blood and severely injured. The latter incident demonstrates just how Neiman’s priorities have changed as he looks to achieve greatness, and it also pushes him over the edge, as Fletcher’s lack of compassion leads Neiman to physically attack him on stage and get him fired.

At this point, relieved that Neiman’s torment was over, I assumed that the film’s conclusion would be smoother for him. The emotional rollercoaster continues, however, when Neiman, having subsequently abandoned drumming, re-encounters Fletcher at a club. They chat in a manner that is almost friendly, but I was convinced this was too good to be true. Sure enough, when Fletcher offers Neiman a drumming spot at a local festival, he reveals he knows Neiman got him fired, getting his revenge by forcing him to play a piece he has not learnt. Fletcher’s status as a total villain is sealed, as it seems he has humiliated Neiman in front of an audience. Neiman hits back with a performance that eventually earns Fletcher’s respect, and in the closing moments of the film the two exchange smiles. It’s a satisfying ending to something that toyed with me from the start. It’s what Chazelle and his cast do so well; I felt fear, anger, determination and disappointment, all alongside our protagonist, and that is surely the mark of a truly great film.

Mason

The Skeleton

I’m currently in the process of writing my last essay for this year, ahead of my return to Winchester on Saturday. I don’t have a detailed plan as such, only a few brief points for me to incorporate and consider – I procrastinate badly enough without something stopping me from getting stuck in. 1,500 words separate me from the first year’s finish line. The draft I’m working on is my third attempt at this essay, since I got halfway through the first two before becoming dissatisfied with them, but I’m doing so feeling much more comfortable.

I’ve chosen to tackle it using the “skeleton method”, if you like. I begin by writing all of my basic, fundamental points for the different areas of the essay, so that it has a vague structure. Then, once I reach the end, I go back to the start and fill everything out, providing references and quotes and developing my arguments. I don’t always use this, but when I do, I feel much less stress and pressure as I work. This occasion is no exception, and it comes just as I’ve received a mark of 68 for my poetry portfolio, and 65 for the rationale that went with it. That significantly surpassed my expectations, in a module that I thought would be by far my weakest, so I can hold my head high as I submit this last piece of work and look towards next year. At a glance now, I’m 793 words down, with just 707 – excluding quotes – to go…

Mason

Blackout Poetry

Two writing worlds collide! As my poetry portfolio of 150 lines is nearing completion, I’d like to show you one of the poems that will feature in it. I wrote it over the weekend, and although it is untitled at the moment, it serves as an example of blackout poetry. This is created through taking a larger piece of text – perhaps a page from a book, or in this case a stand-alone piece of non-fiction – and isolating totally unrelated words and phrases to use in the poem. I used Charles Simic’s “Dinner At Uncle Boris’s” to write this, looking carefully at different parts of the text to see what could form something strangely cohesive and intriguingly surreal. It will appear as the penultimate poem in my portfolio – I hope you like it as much as my workshop group did yesterday!

“The four of us, out of water glasses,

Eating through our second helping of fly.

I’m full of shit, with a bit of fat underneath.

No guts.

 

The old guys are reminiscing about the war.

‘You were very good at it,’ my father assured him.

We are all composite characters.

We survive that somehow, the incredible stupidity of our family.

 

Orgies of self-abuse, our family is a story of endless errors,

Making us all in turn say ‘aaaaaahh’ like a baby doctor.

Of course, we can barely keep our eyes open.

For the moment we have run out of talk.”

 

Mason

The Gym

What do you do when you want to go to the gym? You go, and you probably don’t give it a second thought either. I wish I could say the same. When I decided to venture into Winchester and try it out so I could write an article for Creative Non-Fiction, even I wasn’t prepared for all of the questions and careful consideration that lay in wait. The process began on Friday afternoon, when I sent a Facebook message explaining my circumstances and asking whether I could come in. After a brief wait, Hayley – the manager to whom my enquiry was passed – replied that evening. To my surprise, her response was favourable.

“Would you like to come down to the club at some point on Monday for a chat?”

Too right I would. A positive step – who’d have thought it? I was relieved that at the very least, whether I publicly humiliated myself in the gym or not, I would have some kind of development to write about. After the weekend had passed in a flurry of doubt and worry, the day arrived, and I made sure to head straight to the gym so that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’ll admit that on the way, I found it hard to focus. I was convinced that my disability would make all of this impossible, and that the end result would be a resounding “no”, but luckily you don’t have a pointless conversation to read here. Hayley was more than welcoming, although I was somewhat surprised when she asked me her first question.

“What are your goals?”

Blimey. Goals? That’s the sort of question you ask dedicated gym-goers, not spotty little whippersnappers like me. Fearful of giving a wrong answer, I reiterated that I was visiting for the purposes of an article and we moved on to my limitations. Hayley gesticulated at the equipment around her and asked what I’d like to have a go at.

“How about a rowing machine?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, I tried one at school a few times, but I had to be held onto the seat. It’s still feasible though.”

“The exercise bike?”

I looked over at it, and it was clear to me that I would be unlikely to magically climb onto it, but I supposed Hayley couldn’t have known. She made the perfect suggestion, however, when she said she could have some weights brought in if I waited a couple of days.

“Here’s my email address,” she said, scribbling it onto a piece of paper as I left. “Send me as much information as you can about yourself and we’ll sort this out.”

Two days later, I was back, and everything I needed was ready. Hayley had her colleague Steph on hand to show me a few things with the weights, but first, I parked as close as possible to the rowing machine – so that my wheels were straddling it, so to speak. I then started off by drawing the handlebars toward my chest and pushing them out again, and the resistance from the cable meant that this was much trickier than I had initially expected. My workout had begun in earnest, muscles I clearly hadn’t used in a while were already starting to burn, and I had to take my fleece off because I was already sweating. Evidently, it was doing me some good! Once that first exercise had come to an end, I was given the weights, which promptly became heavier when I mentioned that the first set was too light. I brought them up and down above my head, in and out in front of my chest and around in circles until I was physically struggling to hold them. It wore me out, of course, but the further I pushed myself, the more I saw why people warm to this kind of activity. The sense of accomplishment I felt made it impossible not to smile, and eventually, Hayley had to insist that I stop.

“I wouldn’t want you to overdo it. You’ve done half an hour,” she said.

“Really?!” I was so engrossed that I had completely lost track of time. Reluctantly, I put the weights down. I felt as though I was only just getting started, but I was still tremendously proud of what I had achieved. Hayley seemed pretty pleased, too.

“You look properly chuffed,” she beamed. “You’re more than welcome to come back if you want.”

I was seriously considering it, even after being told that I would soon be aching all over, and it still remains a distinct possibility. Hayley’s email address is still in my bag, and after such a positive experience, she could be hearing from me again very soon…

Mason

The Cultural Relevance Of Apple Crumble

You know how I’ve showcased a few small pieces of miscellaneous writing on here recently? Well, the first examples of 2019 are ready! The first is the title of this post, one of those bizarrely amusing phrases I felt I had to note down, even though it does not actually refer or apply to anything – not even apple crumble. It was just a throwaway remark made in my Creative Non-Fiction seminar last week, but as soon as I heard it, I knew it was destined to end up written somewhere, probably here. Shortly afterwards, I also heard the phrase “an envelope full of Austrian tea”, and that was another strong candidate for a title – but given the dessert-based title of the last post, I thought it best to keep that minor theme going.

The second piece of writing comes from my Poetry class on Monday – and, more specifically, from a supplement my tutor received with his copy of The Guardian, dated 12 January. In one of our creative exercises, he tore out a page for each of us, and we looked through these for interesting words and phrases we could use in a poem. As I recall, all that was required was a sudden change in tone at the end, and although it was challenging to incorporate this, I gave it my best shot. See what you make of this – pieced together from what I found in two entirely unrelated articles.

“The lonely life of an outsider

He nonetheless professed to cherish

Six months’ house arrest

And five years’ probation.

 

But as he tried to make sense of the stars

An undying love affair with the cosmos began.

Stars look like snowflakes

Astronomy is an art

The most beautiful sight in orbit

For a journalist-turned-teacher

And alcoholic boyfriend.

That may not be a story you’re familiar with

But trust me, it’s not one you need to know.”

 

Mason

A Heart Full Of Hope

Here we are, folks – my very first post for 2019. I can safely say that 2018 was a corker of a year for me, and although I spent the last few hours of New Year’s Eve alone at home, I did so with a belly full of pizza and a heart full of hope, so I was more than happy. I used some of that quality time to continue reading a book Lara bought me as a Christmas present, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under The Sun, which features none other than Hercule Poirot himself. She got it upon hearing that I’d never read any of Christie’s work, and told me that I’d find it very easy to become immersed in the story. She was absolutely right – as I write this, I am 93 pages and seven chapters in, at a point where many probing questions are being asked of every potential murderer. I got there in no time, and my enjoyment of this new book in my spare time has subsequently increased my excitement for what lies ahead at Winchester even more.

Of course, nothing by Agatha Christie is on the reading list, but a few other books are, and two of them arrived yesterday. I am yet to look at them properly, but both are works of non-fiction – and as you might have gathered, I’m rather fond of life writing. The opportunity to read about the experiences, trials and tribulations of others is always tantalising, as is the opportunity to write straight from the heart about my own. The prospect of so much creativity from that and my other modules – including one actually called “Creativity”, and one on poetry, which I have always enjoyed – makes this January much more inviting, since I can’t yet tell what new ideas will manifest themselves, or how. I don’t know what will happen outside of my work either. The world is once again my oyster and as always, the unknown is very exciting. I can’t wait to go and see what it’s all about! Before that, though, I have another very precious fortnight left here at home – and before that, there is a brand new episode of Doctor Who for me to enjoy coming tonight. I fully intend to make the most of both.

Happy New Year to you all!

Mason