After premiering at the South by Southwest film festival earlier this month, Steve Taylor’s adaptation of Donald Miller’s best seller Blue Like Jazz has continued to receive the type of enthusiastic support that got the film made in the first place. From what we’ve heard, that’s because the film, which was largely shot in Nashville and recently acquired by Roadside Attractions — it opens April 13 — eschews the conventions of most Christian-themed movies. Primarily: an uninspired narrative and shoddy filmmaking, coated heavily with didacticism and good intentions.
But now, as Taylor and the film enter the final leg of a 30-city bus tour, they’re coming under fire from the purveyors of some of the most well known faith-based fare (including those aligned with October Baby, the pro-life feature opening this weekend in local theaters). In a blog post, Taylor explains the situation and responds. Evident in the post, and his long history with art and Christianity, is Taylor’s refreshing belief that the two are not mutually exclusive.
His retort is simultaneously gracious, in the face of self-declared enemies, and incisive in its analysis and rejection of what has long plagued the faithful in the creative realm. If that’s any indication of what to expect from Blue Like Jazz, then we’re anticipating it all the more. An excerpt:
But the one box I don’t want to occupy (besides “talking animal”) is “Christian Movie.”
Why should this be? The movie was written and directed by Christians. And it’s based on a book with the subtitle “Non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality.”
But over the last five years or so, “Christian Movie” has calcified in the public consciousness into a genre where:
• Sentimentality trumps substance
• Good intentions trump artistry
• All conflict must be tidily resolved
• “Safe for the whole family” is a de facto requirement
• Or as writer David McFadzean summarized, Christian movies are like porn — poorly lit, poorly acted and you always know how they’re going to end.
I’m not saying this critique is always fair or justified. In the case of the best known movies in this genre — Facing The Giants, Fireproof, etc. by the Kendricks Brothers — I’ve given them props in the past for being good visual storytellers and actually getting movies made with the resources at hand. But they’ve also contributed to (and possibly cemented) the aforementioned stereotypes.
So maybe I should be flattered that, based on recent evidence, the Christian Movie Establishment they represent is out to get us.
Exhibit A: The Executive Pastor of Sherwood Baptist (where the Kendricks 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. (This strikes me as disingenuous at best coming from a church whose movies are distributed by Sony Home Entertainment, home of the The DaVinci Code. And tellingly, the edict was issued before the movie had ever even been screened.)
Exhibit B: Provident Films, a co-distributor on each of the Kendricks Brothers movies, is also distributing a movie called October Baby next weekend. I have friends who acted in this movie, and while I haven’t seen it, as a longtime pro-lifer I certainly support its message. So why would Provident’s Vice President go to the extraordinary measure of attempting to get the Blue Like Jazz trailer banned from running in front of their movie? (This email was passed along to me, and I’m copying it unedited below.)
i think exhibitors are going to try to play the Blue Like Jazz trailer with october baby
this can not happen - the trailer actually has the words “I hate Jesus” in the voiceover along with a number of images that will be very offensive to catholics
it is in the best interest of theaters to not run the trailer because they are going to have a lot of angry patrons if they do
thanks for your help here
Apparently Provident Films have no qualms when it comes to lying about the content of our trailer (“I hate Jesus”???). And though I don’t presume to speak for the Catholic community (unlike this Provident Films exec, who is also not a Catholic), I can tell you that the day I was forwarded this email, a Catholic nun who writes movie reviews for a Catholic publication told me after a Chicago screening that Blue Like Jazz was the best movie she’d seen in years, and that she’d be writing a glowingly positive review for her fellow Catholics. This follows other recent screenings where Catholic individuals and groups in attendance have been equally enthusiastic.
So what is it about Blue Like Jazz that the Christian Movie Establishment finds so threatening?