The Christian Movie Establishment vs. Blue Like Jazz
by Steve Taylor
The website BoxOfficeMojo.com is full of useless statistics that I check regularly. One of its most fascinating and terrifying features happens when you click on “Genres.”
Fascinating, because who knew that “Mother” was a genre (Mamma Mia!)? Or that The Matrix falls under the sub-genre “Action - Wire-Fu”?
Terrifying, because somebody will eventually be categorizing Blue Like Jazz inside a genre box. And it won’t be me.
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?
I’ve now sat in on over one hundred screenings of Blue Like Jazz, and I’m convinced that the reason it’s resonating so strongly with audiences across the country is because, like the book it’s based on, it reminds us of our own experiences. Don’s original story certainly resonated with me – I was a youth pastor at a Baptist church in Denver at the time I was attending the University of Colorado in Boulder. I wanted to make Blue Like Jazz because I felt I’d already lived it. Are there certain stories that we’re not allowed to tell, even if they’re not “safe for the whole family”? Wouldn’t the Bible be a much shorter book if we edited out the parts that weren’t family-friendly?
I recently spoke with one of our Kickstarter backers, and he was telling me how exciting it was to watch the “Save Blue Like Jazz” Kickstarter campaign turn into something historic.
He told me, “It seemed like it was even bigger than just this movie. It was a movement of a new generation of Christians who want to see us making better art. It seems like the Christian Media industry has become all about replicating culture. But we want to be creating culture.”
As Christians working in the creative arts, our job, first and foremost, is to tell the truth. Jesus himself said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
One of the most consistent criticisms I got as a recording artist came from fellow Christians saying, “Why do you do these songs criticizing the church? Why would you go airing our dirty laundry for the public to see?” And, of course, that same criticism had been leveled at Blue Like Jazz.
This perspective has always amused me, as if the public thinks we’ve got our act together perfectly, as if they don’t already see the hypocrisy in our midst. They just think we’re too dumb to see it ourselves.
Which is why the image of a guy in a confession booth finally confessing the truth started my six-year-long quest to make Blue Like Jazz.
When we tell the truth – even the uncomfortable truth – the truth sets people free.
I’m glad movies like Fireproof exist, and I wish its makers continued success. But most of my movie-going friends are ready for a different representation of their faith beyond what the Christian Movie Establishment is currently serving.
If you’re one of them, I hope you’ll cast your vote on April 13th.