Blue Like Jazz Blu-ray|
“Isn’t that the religious movie?” asked a friend when I suggested we watch the new Blu-Ray sitting on my table.
“It’s not what you’re thinking.” I replied, feeling a little embarrassed as I tried to defend the film. “It’s sort of a non-religious religious movie.”
Thus a conversation began about what “Christian movie” means and all the baggage that comes with the label. A lot of people have labeled Blue Like Jazz a “Christian movie” and promptly ignored it. They don’t want the nice moral Gospel message and all the unrealistic relationships, poor acting and even worse production values. I can’t really blame them because, for the most part, the stereotype is true, but what is fascinating is even Christians don’t agree. Does “Christian movie” mean there is a blatant Gospel message presented or that there is just a Christian character or theme present?
Blue Like Jazz is one of those movies that again reveals just how polarized the Christian culture is in the United States. When Blue Like Jazz came to theaters, the group that made “mainstream Christian movies” Facing the Giants and Fireproof insisted that their movie trailers not be attached to Blue Like Jazz. Other Christian groups and well-known artists embraced the movie, even putting up their own money to help produce it. But to be clear, Blue Like Jazz is not a movie you’ll find being discussed in most churches. It’s too “edgy” (or “real” as I prefer to call it).
I probably land more in the “dangerous” end of the argument. I want the conversations that come with such movies. Movies like Robert Zemeckis’ “Contact” (starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey) probably had just as much controversial religious content as Blue Like Jazz yet didn’t face anywhere near the level of scrutiny. I saw Contact seven times in the theater. It was a great opportunity to take friends to see a well done movie that raised interesting questions. I enjoyed the movie, but what I enjoyed more was the conversation afterwards at Pizza Hut. But I try to have those conversations, even about TV shows like Firefly and Babylon 5 which both had religious characters and themes.
Blue Like Jazz is one of those movies. For a movie that’s been labeled a “Christian movie”, it’s pretty honest about life in and outside the church. There are drunks, lesbians, adulterers, and all kinds of other people with big issues all around you and they are even inside your church. Some of them are even Christians. “Don Miller lives in the space between. He lives in the space between his mother and father, between faith and doubt, between love and sex, and between reality and escapism. The only thing he knows he wants is for everybody to leave him alone. But they won't. And his pushing them away is only making things worse.”
Don (played by Marshall Allman) is a good kid. He works a good job, helps his Mom, jokes around with his friends and helps lead the youth group at his Southern Baptist church. He does all the right things. Everything that is expected of him. He’s even going to a Christian college, until his deadbeat Dad “the Hobo” decides to intervene and enroll him at Reed College, the most godless college in the country. Don resists at first, but circumstances change drastically and he wants out of his life. Fast. Marshall decides he wants to experience life.
When he gets to Reed College he finds that “the human dilemma must be experienced”. He finds all the things parents worry about; drinking, drugs, sex, and freedom from what everyone else wants for him. Along the way he meets lesbian Lauryn (Tania Raymonde), activist Penny (Claire Holt), and atheist The Pope (Justin Welborn). All of them push his boundaries. All of them help him experience life in ways he never saw at home. All of them help him wrestle with the big questions in life to help find out who he really is… and own it.
Character development is the one area where Blue Like Jazz stumbles, but just a little bit. It has some great characters, particularly at Reed College. These are people I wanted to feel connected with, but I ended up feeling like it was about two scenes short of making that connection. All of the main characters feel like they might be people I’d love to spend a day with just talking about life. But it never quite happens.
Blue Like Jazz is a real eye opener if you are expecting a “Christian” movie. This isn’t something anyone has seen or maybe even tried on this level. It’s honest… it’s real… and doesn’t gloss over any of the hypocrisy, or silly things surrounding church culture. It also doesn’t gloss over college life. Making it a “must see” for any parent and teen about to head off to college. There are so many things that could be talked about from this movie.
When the movie ended it left me feeling encouraged, but also a little cheated. The movie fan in me wanted to see nice a resolution. It would have been a “feel good movie” like hundreds of others, but it doesn’t end like it should. There are all kinds of loose ends but really no reason for a sequel. Early in the movie, “the Hobo” tries to open Don’s eyes to new things. Different things that are not scripted for him. Things like jazz music. Jazz is improvised. You just go. And like life, jazz doesn’t resolve. Blue Like Jazz was never meant to resolve. It was meant to start a conversation. It succeeded.
Blue Like Jazz was originally a book of essays that Don Miller wrote about 10 years ago. It was popular both in religious and secular press. I read it in the break room at my workplace in 2006. I continually had people coming up to me saying how great a book it was… people I wouldn’t expect to be reading a “religious” book. I found out that most of them grew up going to church but left for various reasons. It never crossed my mind that this would make a good movie. It’s just not structured for a movie. So when I heard it was a Kickstarter project I was curious.
It turned out the movie was in the works for some time and I hadn’t heard about it. But some of the financing fell through and the producers decided to put it on crowd source funding website Kickstarter. Word got out quickly and in 10 days the film was financed. In 30 days they had doubled their financing. That’s how much people enjoyed the book and wanted to see a movie.
For an indie film Blue Like Jazz is amazingly well done. Director Steve Taylor has been poking at Christian culture since the 1980’s. He was a well churched musician and made some brilliant albums steeped in sarcasm. Songs like “I want to be a clone” and “I blew up the clinic real good” were huge hits on college campus’ but you never heard them on radio stations. He was the perfect choice to direct this movie.
Blue Like Jazz is a low budget film that doesn’t look low budget. The cinematography is a credit to Ben Pearson who worked with other such counter Christian culture people like the late Rich Mullins. The lighting, camera moves, and editing are all on par with movies that had 10x the money to produce. Blue Like Jazz is primarily a movie about deep inner questions that everyone asks so don’t expect any Michael Bay over the top explosion or chase scenes. The surrounds and subwoofer are only slightly active in music scenes . The only audio option available is DTS HD 5.1 English. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and English SDH for visual impaired. The soundtrack for Blue Like Jazz is a kind of odd mix of jazz and indie Portland music scene bands. Some of which is even voiced by director Steve Taylor. There is of course a little jazz music from John Coltrane but probably due to limited budget for music licensing that’s all we get.
Bonus featuires and extras include:
Commentary with Director Steve Taylor, Author Don Miller, and Cinematographer Ben Pearson - I had pretty high expectations going into the commentary track since I’ve been a fan of Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson for years and I’ve read the Don Miller penned book this movie is based on several times. But I like hanging out with creative types. It gets my creativity going. All three of the guys are also their own worst critics and spend way too much time picking apart their own movie. Once they get going they do provide some insight about the choices they had to make, including what silly things offended the “evangelical crowd”. Silent gaps in the commentary are too frequent and Don even checks his Twitter feed while they are supposed to be providing some insight into the film but overall it’s a pretty standard commentary track.
Making Blue Like Jazz (11:40, HD) this is a fairly quick behind the scenes look with an interview with author Don Miller. No real time is spent looking at sets or the creative minds behind the making of the movie. It ends with a short clip at a few of the premieres. I guess we got spoiled by the Lord of the Rings box sets. It would have been nice to have a real documentary that went into details about the history of the book and movie and the use of crowd sourced funding to complete the movie. I, for one, would like to know how to achieve what they did with such a small budget. It also would have been great to see an interview with the real Penny and other Reedies.
The Music (6:24, HD) I’m not sure if this was meant to be a joke. This is sort of an interview with musician Danny Seim. If he really behaves like this, he is a flake. There isn’t anything of substance or anything actually funny. A complete waste of time and disc space.
Save Blue Like Jazz (2:48, HD) this gives a very quick history of the 2007 Kickstarter campaign to fund Blue Like Jazz. They only asked for $125,000 and that was raised in 10 days. The campaign ended up getting 4,495 people giving a total of $345,992 to finish Blue Like Jazz.
The Cast (4:18, HD) features short interviews with Marshall Allman (Don), Claire Holt (Penny), Justin Welborn (the Pope), and Tania Raymonde (Lauryn). This is again, far too short and leaves the viewer wondering what all the actors really thought about the book and movie.
The Animator (1: 19, HD) this is another “meant to be funny, but really isn’t” segment with a kid in costume talking about the animator Jonathan Richter while he works in the background.
This is My Story (3:15, HD) these are short clips with various people talking about what they thought about the book and movie Blue Like Jazz. The video included on the disc is an abbreviated version of a 13 minute film available at www.thisismystory.tv which is definitely worth watching. The entire video should have been included on the disc.
Deleted Shots (1: 56, HD) this is probably meant to be a joke since all the “scenes” are B-roll with no character moments or dialog. Each scene has a lower third text overlay that explains why the shots were not used. Some of them are funny. Sort of. Sadly there were scenes discussed in the commentary track that were cut but do not appear on this disc.
Master Class: Steve Taylor Directing Actors on Set (3:46, HD) this is just a bunch of behind the scenes clips showing director Steve Taylor interacting with actors on set. He does some voiceovers that are occasionally funny.
Theatrical Trailer (2:33, HD) it is what it is.
Photo Gallery – includes about 70 photos from the production of the movie.
Other trailers from Lionsgate: Girl in Progress, The Music Never Stopped, and No Greater Love. All three of these trailers completely spoil the movies, making them not worth renting. As happens all too often, they take all the best scenes and pretty much give you the entire movie in 1 minute.
The extras on this disc are a frustrating hodgepodge of attempted humor and far too short real interviews. It’s made even more frustrating seeing that they actually went to some effort to make the unfunny clips which could have instead been really informative. However the movie itself borders on brilliance. Blue Like Jazz is a thought provoking movie. It is a conversation provoking movie. While most movie fans will probably be frustrated by its lack of a nice tidy ending, this movie does what all good movies should do, it makes you think and want to discuss it with other people.