Film Review – Blaze (Second Take)
Blaze begins with a quote by Willie Nelson, solidifying Blaze Foley’s place in music history. Many people, or possibly most, like myself, have never heard of Blaze Foley. A fan of Blaze’s music, Ethan Hawke directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Blaze’s wife, Sybil Rosen, which is based on her book.
The issue with Blaze is getting people to see it when it is about a lesser-known musician. There has to something intriguing about his life, or the talent in front of or behind the camera have to be a draw. Enter Ben Dickey, a fairly unknown actor, who chose to embody Blaze Foley as much as possible. While Dickey may not look exactly like the real Blaze, he took to heart the aspects of the man that his wife loved, his fans and friends adored, and the music he created. What came out of Dickey’s Blaze is an exploding kindness and love, a tortured soul, and a man battling his inner demons. He had problems, but he also had the briefest high of success and a woman who loved him.
The film is told from three different storylines and periods of time. The first is how Blaze met his wife, Sybil (Alia Shawkat), amongst a hippy-like school of actors. Blaze was a carpenter and Sybil a student. They fell in love and moved into a “treehouse” which was basically an oversized shack. This storyline was the one that felt most like real-time, and the one about their love and its disintegration. The second storyline is Blaze at the end of his short life, recording a live record in a bar at the back of a gas station. He is reminiscing and reflecting on what the songs meant to him or what inspired him. The third storyline is after Blaze’s death. Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton), a more well-known musician and friend of Blaze and Blaze’s best friend and bandmate/manager Zee (Josh Hamilton) are sitting down with an ignorant radio DJ (Ethan Hawke) to discuss Blaze. Townes and Zee are also reflecting on the times spent together, and Townes spins some tall tales about their time together.
Other than Ben Dickey’s performance, it is the visual look of the film that endeared itself to me. It had the right kind of soft lighting, and the colors were never stark. The way it was filmed reminded me of an 80s film, but with better technology, and is evidenced by the poster and the trailer before ever setting foot in the theatre. Cinematographer Steve Cosens should be applauded for the overall look of Blaze.
Blaze was done on an independent film budget, even though Ethan Hawke helmed it. Because of his status, I am sure he was able to bring people to the project for less than they usually receive. Cases in point are the small roles for Steve Zahn, Richard Linklater (acting, not directing), Kris Kristofferson (and one heck of an emotional scene), Sam Rockwell, and Wyatt Russell. These actors popping in throughout Blaze’s story was just a bonus.
With the three storylines converging at the tragic end of Blaze Foley’s life and its aftermath, it gave finality to who the man was and what he left behind. It’s not a perfect film as it dragged towards the end of its over two-hour runtime, and it could have explained better who some of the supporting characters were. Had it not been for this film, I would have never learned of Blaze. This musical education had to have been one of the reasons Ethan Hawke chose this man’s story and brought it beautifully to the screen.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director Ethan Hawke and actor Ben Dickey.