Black Swan tells the story of a young woman who sacrifices everything to achieve one fleeting moment of absolute perfection, suggesting absolute perfection requires absolute sacrifice. Whiplash tells the story of a young man who endures intense physical and emotional abuse from a mentor, but manages to grow from the experience and in the end becomes the next Charlie Parker — Fletcher’s only Charlie Parker. Which raises the question, do the ends justify the means? Is it true that there are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”?
Even though I may not have a specific ambition to pursue a career in Hollywood, I’ve recently become fascinated with the craft of making a great movie. It’s so illuminating when you dig beneath the surface of a film to uncover some of the more subtle decisions made along the way. Why did they choose this camera angle or that set design? One YouTube channel that does a great job with this is Lessons from the Screenplay, hosted by Michael Tucker.
I haven’t gotten around to watching Whiplash yet, but I really liked Black Swan. On some level, I can identify with the mindset of the tortured artist, always striving for better while simultaneously struggling with more immediate demands. Life has this nasty habit of getting in the way. Maybe there’s a reason why some of history’s greatest artists suffered from some affliction or another.
Maybe it is only through brutal criticism, ceaseless rejection and what might feel like a never-ending string of failures that the artist can emerge in his or her greatest form, if only for a single moment in the limelight. But this only raises another question: is the perfection of the artist’s performance contingent on audience response? Does it have to be seen, acknowledged and validated in order for it to be perfect?
If there is one other lesson we can learn from films like these, ironically enough, it’s that done is still better than perfect. When you put yourself out there, whether it’s on the stage or on the Internet, you leave yourself vulnerable to criticism. Worse yet, you leave yourself vulnerable to apathy and indifference. But if you want to get better, you have to keep putting yourself out there. You take the abuse and you grow from the experience.
I’m currently working my way through the archives of Lessons from the Screenplay. Unlike Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter, two other YouTube channels I really enjoy, Michael Tucker focuses exclusively on the actual writing (and how it is eventually represented on the screen). That’s even more up my alley. I may or may not be an artist, but I am certainly obsessed.