The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Blue Like Jazz Sees Reed Through a Glass, Darkly

Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and one screenwriter of the book’s film adaptation, confessed at the Reed premiere last Wednesday that he wouldn’t have been surprised if seventy percent of the audience had walked out. Steve Taylor, the film’s director; Miller; and the three actors present admitted to being nervous.

While the only noticeable walkout was after a call for Hum Play rehearsal, they may have had good cause for their nerves. The audience, encouraged by Miller to make live commentary, reacted with snide comments, or loud, sarcastic remarks to almost every scene of the movie.

The Gray Fund hosted event also included a Q&A after the showing, and responses were mixed. Some students were critical, even offended, by some elements of the movie, especially its portrayal of the campus as hostile to religion and religious students. However, other students said that they enjoyed the movie and thought that the rendering of Reed was fair, or at least not as negative as they expected it to be. One audience member praised the film’s depiction of the culture shock that many students feel upon entering the Reed bubble.

The movie was shown to limited audiences before it was released to local theaters. Reed was a different kind of audience and was watching a different movie. Few non-Reedies will see details that had the Reed audience groaning, or catch moments that threw the crowd into cheers. Protests rose over an acceptance letter without confetti, buildings misrepresented as Reed, and a Renn Fayre described by Miller as half “frat party,” half “Flaming Lips concert.”

For a theater full of people who have never heard of Reed, these are reasonable sacrifices to the cinematic purpose of a movie whose producers, concerned about objections by the administration, thought they weren’t even going to be able to call the college of Blue Like Jazz Reed. And while the mysterious room overlooking the blue bridge from a perfect photographic angle may never be found, there were plenty of scenes more familiar to Reedies, such as gender neutral bathrooms, protests over the unsustainability of water bottles, and tall bikes. Other things, like a civil disobedience PE course and a giant, climbable rope web, will hopefully soon appear on the real Reed campus.

For some Reedies, the film adaptation Blue Like Jazz was a failure to capture the spirit of their beloved school at best, or a grievous misrepresentation. Others appreciated the film’s efforts or took the movie less seriously. For the audience at the Reed College premier, the movie was about their Reed.

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