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Blue Like Jazz unleashes dogma

By Robin Tovey '97 on April 13, 2012 12:47 PM

 

BLJ_blue_bridge.jpgA six pack of beer as payment for a lesson in how to ride a tall bike? This was the confession made by Marshall Allman, the lead actor in Blue Like Jazz, at an advance screening of this independent film at Reed on Wednesday night (the movie opens around the country today). The preview for students, staff, and faculty included a Q&A at which we learned about Allman's preparation for his role as Don Miller, a person of faith who finds his way from being dogmatic to authentic during his time at Reed College. The character of Don was based upon some real-life experiences of author Don Miller, who audited Hum 110 at Reed and then stuck around as adviser to the student group "Oh, for Christ's Sake!" for a couple of years; he went on to include his Reed interlude in his spiritual memoir, Blue Like Jazz (2003), upon which the film is loosely based. Don was present at the Q&A, along with the director, Steve Taylor, and three of the actors (Allman, Tania Raymonde, and Justin Welborn); they were a genial group and even encouraged the Reed crowd to indulge in a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 viewing of it.

 


BLJ_try_me_reed.jpgThe film follows a 19-year-old sophomore at a Texas junior college who tries to escape his Bible Belt upbringing by going to a liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest and getting in touch with his inner heathen. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the movie would've been too expensive to film here in Portland, so select scenes of the Reed campus are interspersed with shots of Vanderbilt University and Scarritt Bennett Retreat Center in Nashville. The Renn Fayre scene was filmed at Vanderbilt (the keg-stand is a giveaway), yet our beloved blue bridge is featured prominently. Interiors of the library crop up, and Don relies upon MAX light rail quite often. Unfortunately, the screenwriters rely a bit too heavily on a rather generic "young man coming of age" trope, skimming over the nuances of an existential crisis that this trailer seems to promise. The plot meanders and confounds at times, taking the easier route of showcasing shenanigans at a quirky college instead of delving into Don's evolution as an "out" Christian coming to terms with hypocrisy in the world (including his own).

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That said, the main characters are likable and have some funny lines ("civil disobedience for PE credit"); similarly, it was amusing for a Reed audience to see actors depict the Pope and graze at the Scrounge in blissful naiveté. Of course the film does not capture the rigors of academic life or what it really means to be a part of the Reed community; a couple of students in the audience shouted "Honor Principle!" when they witnessed not-very-Reed-like interactions among the characters, and one called "anecdotal evidence" on a particularly lackluster conference scene. In their comments afterward, Don and his director fully acknowledged that the uniqueness of Reed cannot be reproduced, and they were almost obsequious in apologizing for the feeble representations. Both men were gracious in thanking us for letting them "exploit" the campus, and Steve joked that they were "excited, yet petrified" to attend the screening. While some dogmas were challenged, we can all be grateful that no Reed dogs were harmed (or glamorized) in the making of this movie.
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