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Blue Like Jazz the DVD

August 23, 2012

Man, I know I promise to write y’all, but this is just embarrassing.

I call this “Blue Like Jazz: The DVD” because mamas who love movies have to live at the Redbox. Seriously, I may actually own the thing outright if we rent “The Muppet Movie” one. more. time. Redbox should adopt a layaway policy. Maybe I’ll submit that next time they text me a free code.

But I digress…

We have this way in Beckydom of deciding what’s Christian and what’s not. Often it’s a determination made by art’s “family-friendliness.” We say this is faith-based and that over there is secular. For example, once in a rental car, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Tomlin cover U2’s “Where the Streets Have no Name.” Before I’m flogged for implying U2 isn’t a Christian band, I’ll say THEY ARE. THEY ARE. But I’ve never before heard any of their music, that song included, on Christian radio until Tomlin consecrated it with his worship-leader vocals. It’s a song about Heaven by Christians and yet in one case it’s Christian enough and in another it’s not. I was at a concert once where I heard Jars of Clay do an unplugged version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” so…

Okay, that was just mean.  My apologies.

I thought about all this the other day when I rented the Miller movie. I had a friend recommend “Blue Like Jazz” after he saw it in the theater and he mentioned it on Facebook with this description: “might be uncomfortable for typical ‘Christian movie’ watchers.”

Now I read the book. Liked it. Made me feel a little less alone as a Not Becky, but it wasn’t as life-changing for me as it was for some of my younger Christian hipster friends. I had no idea how they were going to make it into a movie. I could barely remember the narrative parts of the book and even what I remembered didn’t seem to fit the standard movie formula.

There’s rain, but no singing. No kissing, either. But plenty of side hugs.

I really liked the film. Sure, there was a lot of drinking, swearing, and running around with pagan sinners, but that’s college for everyone, right? No? It was still definitely a Christian movie. And I like that Miller and friends were allowed to go there (independent fundraising as indicated by the crazy double-columned credits at the end. You gave a small amount, you got producer credit. Probably my favorite part of the movie.)

Without spoiling the whole bit, I’ll say the one issue I had with it is that despite it’s wrestling with an honest-to-goodness crisis of theology and, more to it, ecclesiology, the resolution of the crisis was unsatisfying. The book seemed to focus on what Miller had gotten wrong about people in general, and evangelism in particular. That Christianity was more than cleaning up your act and breaking the news to people that they were hell-bound (perhaps considering getting far enough out of your social circle to even just do that).

The movie, probably for the purpose of turning it into an about-face personal narrative, makes it a little more about Miller’s desire to fit into a secular crowd. While that conflict was a big part of the book, it wasn’t the whole lot of it. In the end, the main character almost apologizes for everything that made him interesting for the bulk of the movie.

What I liked about Jazz the book, and Miller’s talks of “story” and faith when I’ve seen him in person, is that he often challenges that arbitrarily drawn line between sacred and secular. That was part of the movie, and I’m sure that’s what my friend was alluding to in his review. But rather than pressing the wider audience to consider if their Gospel would be open to, say, tear-soaked midnight heart-to-hearts with a lesbian in their dorm room, the film ends just where the book got good: with Miller confessing his sins to people used to hearing Christians condemn theirs. That may have been the point, for all of us to go and do likewise. It doesn’t matter Miller’s instincts in that scene “worked” as a soul-winning tactic. What matters is he was honest. Perhaps that’s the challenge he hoped to leave us with in the end. I just wish he could have found a way to preserve the weight of the book’s subcultural critique. Limitations of the form, I guess.

Regardless of any lukewarm feelings I have on that subject, I’d recommend it and I hope they make more like it. As projects of this nature get more democratically-funded and less studio-controlled, I think there is hope we might see more films that are less “family-friendly” and a bit more varied in their address of the Christian experience.

Speaking of confessions and forgiveness, I really am sorry about that Miley Cyrus prank.  Link of contrition:

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Candy permalink
    November 11, 2012 8:16 pm

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

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