Sunday, September 22, 2013

Suffering Through . . . Blue Like Jazz Part I

I host a movie club that meets at our house.  We watch good films, for entertainment's sake, and discuss them for artistic value and meaning.

This is not a Christian film club for a couple of reasons. First of all, most "Christian" movies are not very good.  They tend to be low quality in all their artistic parameters. They are often corny and most of all, propaganda. Any movie with an agenda, be it Christian or some of the Michael Moore flicks would not be a good fit for that reason alone.

I was in haste to set up this month's meeting.  I usually start with film festival winners.  But as I was reviewing one (of many) list of "best discussion films of the year" one stuck out to me, the film version of the book, Blue Like Jazz.  I decided to go with it for a couple of reasons. The first reason was being ranked as one of the top 25 discussion movies of 2012.  The other reason I decided to go with the film is how much the book impressed me when it came out in 2003.

I, like many in my shoes at the time, made the book a best seller. It was because it was one of the first voices that I had heard of serious criticism of the Evangelical mores . . . while still subscribing to the Christian belief system. There were plenty of non-Christian critics and ex-Christian critics. Before the publication of that book, in recent mainstream Evangelicalism, there were not many loud voices that took that inside critic position.  I liked the book, but that was at a time in my spiritual evolution (hate to use that work because it is so over-used these days) when it hit a cord with me.

I will have to say the movie was a big disappointment.  It was a disappointment for the same reason I mentioned that I don't like Christian movies.  I didn't sense too much of an agenda, but all of the broad artistic compilation, that which is required to make a film, can be assessed by the fact that they were a spectrum from bad to okay. The movie seemed like a bunch of bright colors of cloth all sewed together with clumsy stitching.

The other disappointing thing for me was that I now realize that I may have misunderstood Miller the book author (if different from Miller the screenplay writer) and maybe he wasn't the post-Evangelical "Joan of Arc" that I thought he was.  I could write many paragraphs about this point, but I will summarize with just the title.  I understood in the book he said that he choose the title because true Christianity is like genre of Jazz because it doesn't resolve things (which music theorist I'm sure would debate).  Traditional Evangelicalism of the time (and now) resolved everything. There was a right way, no only to pray, to sing, to think . . . but a Christian way to wear your clothes, a Christian way to pick a car and so on.  It was must summarized under the yoke of WWJD (what would Jesus do), a question you were suppose to ask yourself at each decision point . . . do I buy Supreme Gas or Regular . . . "What would Jesus do?"  The sad this is that we thought we had an answer to each of those questions because Christianity resolved everything . . . so we thought.

But in the movie, it was Miller's non-Christian father, the Christian antagonist that came up with the notion the Christianity didn't resolve and in the story, Miller fell for that idea. But in the film, his disillusionment was not perpetual.  In the end, a beautiful women was a lure (think a worm on a hook to a fish) him back to the fold . . . where once again, he did seem to believe that Christianity did resolve everything and he had only been rebellious.  So I don't know if I had misunderstood him back in 2003 or that he went through his own evolution by the time he got to the screenplay rewrite. The other, more cynical, thought is that he did have a hard time raising money for the film and maybe they had to compromise the message for the sake of donors.

But I'm going to end this posting (and as a prelude to the next) with one thing that I did like about the movie, and which was consistent with the book, was the last scene.

It was at the end of the year on Reed College campus. It was a college known for their freedom of morals (and from most morals) but presented in the movie as more restrictive than a Nazi regime. If you tried to think differently than the mores of the campus (book burning was a common past time) you would have hell to pay.  The campus had a satirical "Pope" who, beside making fun of the Church, did token things like "take confessions" from the students. At the end of that year, in the middle of a campus-wide drunken orgy, Miller was crown the new Pope and his first task was to take confessions.

About this time he was having a change of heart. While donning the Monty Python version of the Pope's attire and sitting in what looked like a real confessional booth, he decided that rather than hearing the graphic S&M stories of the students, that he would, instead, confess to them.  He first confessed to them about his personal rebellion against Jesus while on campus but also confessed to them the sins of the Church and he asked their forgiveness.

I'm going to end at this point only to say this leads to my next thought, and it is quite broad and deep and that is this whole issue of suffering.  The way it relates to the film (in my mind at least) is that a row of students, each with their own personal demons, were lining up to hear Miller's "confessions."

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