Monday, September 3, 2012

Blue Like Jazz, DVD




Blue Like Jazz provides something better than quick resolve: the beginnings of a genuine faith.

Blue Like Jazz, DVD (www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com)
Publisher: Lionsgate
Time: Approximately 107 minutes

In Blue Like Jazz, a Steve Taylor film based on the bestselling book of the same name by Donald Miller, jazz is a metaphor for the complexities and unresolved issues of life.

A willingness to explore fallen human nature without rushing toward an obvious conclusion sets this film apart from others that are marketed to Christians. The filmmaker was not afraid to skewer evangelical subculture, which should not surprise those familiar with Steve Taylor, who frequently employed satire in his music. If the movie exaggerates, it is only to show just how wacky and hypocritical church life can be.

This is not a “come to Jesus” movie. There are no altar calls. This has little in common with Billy Graham films or Sherwood Pictures, the makers of Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous. As good as those films may be, to use the words of Paul Metzger in praise of the book, the movie Blue Like Jazz is “honest, passionate, raw … real.”

That is not to say that the other films are not. It just seems an apt description of a movie that has an indie/art-house feel, whereas the other films are more standard fare. “Christian” films typically take fewer risks and are not as creative. They appeal primarily to Christian audiences. Skeptics, seekers and unbelievers may be more at home with the content of Jazz than Christians, who may have their sensibilities offended by the debauchery depicted, which is mild by the world’s standards, and the language used.

By the way, if some Christians are put-off by the trailer, they might consider that trailers can be misleading. Scenes ripped from their context can communicate a different meaning than what is in the film. Suffice it to say that one quip from the trailer can be unsettling until one hears the complete thought.

Perhaps we Christians need to further educate ourselves in how we evaluate movies. A movie like this requires patience. There is no quick resolve with jazz.

Author Donald Miller uses the film to briefly show viewers the elements of story. It provides clues as to where we are in the movie. This might sound rather wooden but leave it to Miller and Taylor to be wildly creative. Don’t be surprised if one moment you see a bit of animation and the next you are watching someone floating untethered in space. The latter is an apt metaphor for a young, sheltered Don losing his way in an anything goes environment.

It’s not just cloned Christians that are exposed and get lost before the camera. Political correctness run amok is also a target. The left can be just as predictable and stereotypical as the right. Neither is a good scenario if the kind of jazz you hope to create is marked by creativity and authenticity.

The characters are well-cast and likeable, even if, sadly, many Christians might shy away from their counterparts in real life. Early on at liberal Reed College Don befriends a fellow-student, who is a lesbian. They support each other through difficult moments. Penny, Don’s romantic interest, is introduced as somewhat of a radical protester, but as it turns out with many of these characters, there is more depth than is first apparent. Penny somewhat hides a significant part of her life until later in the story.

The intriguing DVD cover image comes from the scene where Don learns from Penny that Portlanders do not use umbrellas. I enjoyed the interactions between Penny and Don, and true to the jazz metaphor, there is no easy resolve, but both deepen as they improvise.

The story, of course, is based on Miller’s life. I am not sure how much is factual. The book is a series of essays rather than a biography. Miller and Taylor had the challenge of making it into a compelling narrative, and for the most part, they succeed.

Miller makes a cameo as an author speaking in a corporate bookstore that becomes the target of a protest.

Danny Seim of Menomena produced the soundtrack. He met Taylor in a record shop. The music also includes snatches of “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue” by Over the Rhine and “I Hurt Too” by Katie Herzig. And what would this movie be without some music from jazz-great, John Coltrane? I like the scenes where Coltrane records are in view and where a needle is gently placed on spinning vinyl.

One could point to examples in the past, but here is a modern day film made by Christians for the irreligious. Believers can appreciate it too if they can get past the irreverence. There may not be any resolution in jazz, but this movie earns its satisfying conclusion: the beginnings of a genuine faith, something that anyone can relate to.
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