Blue Like Jazz: Not Your Average Christian Film
If a Christian-oriented film touches on matters of grace, it's no surprise. But when the making of a movie thrusts the director into the realm of grace and miracles, that's an ending not even Hollywood can script, as Steve Taylor learned first-hand with "Blue Like Jazz," which opens nationwide on April 13.
Turning Donald Miller's best-selling faith memoir into a fiction film might sound like a slam dunk on paper, but four years of fundraising efforts proved tortuous. What's more, Taylor got a terrible jolt just hours before opening his production office: A financial backer in Los Angeles got cold feet, leaving Taylor $250,000 short – and the film dead in the water.
Dejected, Miller blogged about this knockout punch, telling followers that the movie project was finished. But rather than mourn, "Blue Like Jazz" fans insisted that the show had to go on. Then Taylor and Miller were approached by two lads from Franklin, Tenn., Zach Prichard and Jonathan Frazier, who proposed to rejuvenate fundraising efforts through Kickstarter, a website where fans can contribute money to arts-related projects they want to see funded.
Taylor was dubious. "I thought they were very naive," Taylor recalls. "The most a film had ever raised on Kickstarter before was between $40,000 and $50,000, and we had to raise $125,000 in 30 days," he recalls. "I told them I just wasn't ready for that kind of public humiliation. But they asked me if I had any better ideas, and I didn't."
Where professional fundraisers had failed Taylor, Prichard and Frazier succeeded – and raised more than $300,000, a record for any film on Kickstarter. The result is a movie that works on all levels, from its sharp cinematography and high-octane soundtrack to its first-rate performances from a largely unknown cast. Most important: Like the book it's based on, "Blue Like Jazz" doesn't strain for the kind of preachy, righteous conflict and climax that has dogged so many faith-based films before it.
In fact, the gorgeous and gritty, humorous and humble "Blue Like Jazz" is almost sure to offend some Christians who've come to equate "faith" with "family friendly." It's not exactly a spoiler alert to say that one scene shows a church steeple draped in an enormous condom. And it turns out that's just one of many shocking moments in the film, which some evangelical film heavies have criticized because of its edgy content.
Miller and Taylor have blogged about the obstructionist behavior, noting that “the executive Pastor of Sherwood Baptist (where the Kendrick Brothers movies are produced) issued what amounts to a fatwa against Blue Like Jazz when he made it known that nobody who worked on our movie would be allowed to work with them in the future.” As if that weren’t bad enough, a Provident executive working with the film “October Baby” “went to the extraordinary measure of attempting to get the Blue Like Jazz trailer banned from running in front of their movie,” they write.
Not that Taylor is backing down because of pressure from critics: "If you took all of the content out of the Bible that wasn't family friendly, you'd have a pretty thin book," he says.
Critics and fans alike should leave their expectations and stereotypes at the door. Taylor and Miller, with co-screenwriter Ben Pearson, have crafted the most honest, satisfying depiction of young man’s faith trials ever produced by filmmakers with evangelical ties. The fictional Miller (Marshall Allman) leaves his Texas Bible Belt upbringing for Portland’s Reed College, the center of ultra-liberal thought and outlandish student behavior. Straight-laced and proper, Miller dumps his teenage faith after his mother has an affair with the youth pastor at his home church – an event that has tragic consequences.
Miller befriends lesbian and fellow Bible Belt refugee Lauryn (Tania Raymonde), and an anti-religious party animal who wears a miter and goes around campus known as The Pope (Justin Welborn). Allman plays Miller’s transformation from wide-eyed acolyte to partying cynic with sublime believability, but Welborn nearly steals the film, mixing humor and rhetorical heat to create the charismatic campus equivalent of Jim Morrison.
As Miller takes a shining to beautiful classmate Penny (Claire Holt), his best and worst sides wrestle. He becomes both a rebel with a cause and a rebel without a brain. His efforts to fight a corporate bottled-water behemoth go much better, for example, than his ill-advised stunt with the church steeple.
That image and others will offend some Christians and Miller certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but “Blue Like Jazz” shines, from its use of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” to its humble, anything-but-predictable closing.
Even more importantly, Miller and Taylor’s little film that could has proven an inspiration for filmgoers on two levels: Christians starved for cinematic content that tackles faith without the slipshod cliches, and would-be Christian filmmakers who see Taylor's work as a new benchmark for artistic excellence.
Sam Hayes, 22, a senior at Wheaton College, falls into both categories. He hopes to start a film career in Los Angeles this summer, and his reaction after seeing "Blue Like Jazz" at a recent screening was nothing short of ecstatic.
"It works," Hayes says. "It's beautiful and it's true – all the things so-called 'Christian' films should be. In an artistic sense, it is very well done. And visually it is very beautiful."
He adds: “I've never seen a film about a college kid running away from his Christian roots. This story is important because it is the story of millions of American Christians. This isn't a ‘Christian’ or "Non-Christian’ film – that's not the issue to be debated. This is a realistic story meant to inspire our relationship with God, like a parable. It's not sugar coated and neither is the Bible.”
News You May Also Like
When viewers tune in for the world premiere original movie, Finding Normal, they'll be pleasantly surprised to see a face they recognize, that of “D.J. Tanner.” Candace Cameron Bure is best-known for playing beloved oldest sister on the iconic family sitcom “Full House...
Finding Normal was also physically demanding as the entire film was shot in just 12 days, over two intense six-day weeks. The movie was filmed on location in Columbia, La., a town whose population barely exceeds 300 people. Ironically, when Bure was first driven into the small town by a local...
When she is at home, although she can’t entirely cease working, her attention shifts to her children. While every day is different for the working mother of three – who not only is an acclaimed actress, but is also a motivational speaker and a New York Times best-selling author –...
Urban, Hip-hop and Gospel music's finest artists including Kirk Franklin, Lecrae, Mary Mary,...
Catch the latest pop music videos from Amy Grant, Brandon Heath, MercyMe, Francesca Battistelli,...
When an investigative reporter comes to Walton's Mountain to write a historical guide to the State...
Jason Walton stretches himself to the breaking point by working too hard to prove his self-worth.
In the pilot episode of the series, a reverend and his wife work to give each of their five...
Download of the Week
Pivotal scenes in a movie are even more exciting and inspiring with great music. Listen and download a song from the...