Blaze: A New Film About a Growing Legend

Blaze, the new independent film by Ethan Hawke is making its way across the US and Canada.  I was really looking forward to having the chance to review this movie.  The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and created quite a buzz.


The story of Blaze Foley is a growing legend because of the songs he wrote, the music he made, and his potential for fame that eluded him.  Blaze was known to have a wonderful sense of humor. In a prophetic joke to his beloved Sybil he said, “I don’t wanna be a star, I wanna be a legend.”


His life was cut short, but his music has continued to feed the growing legend of Blaze Foley.  For me, this film is just the latest recognition of Blaze Foley who was a living legend and a friend of mine.  That is why getting to review this film is such a great opportunity to me.


Seeing the film for the first time was much more difficult than I had anticipated. The artful presentation is very emotional for anyone.  The highs, the lows, the love of Sybil, and some of his music opportunities are all highlighted in exceptionally performed scenes.  The first time I watched this movie the emotionally provoking scenes touched more than my heart at that moment.


I could not provide a good movie review for you based on my first viewing.  You could not share the memories of those events and the emotions of that time that were revived unless you are also a friend of Blaze’s.


The second viewing of the movie was necessary.  Taking the professional perspective as a writer preparing to review a movie I watched Blazeagain.  My professional opinion is, you cannot afford to miss seeing this movie!


Ethan Hawke said it was Blaze’s music that made him want to tell his story. He also happened to have the good fortune of being friends with a musician named Ben Dickey.  Similar to Blaze in his physical size and being able to perform his music moved Ethan to cast Dickey in his first acting role.  The special recognition of his performance at Sundance proves this gut feeling was an excellent move.


Alia Shawkat is the emotional heavyweight of this film.  Her touching portrayal of Sybil Rosen shows why Sybil was the muse that brought the music out from Blaze.  It is the music that is creating the legend and this music filled movie will not disappoint you.  In fact, I would not be surprised if after seeing the movie you want to go buy one of Blaze’s albums.  My favorite is The Dawg Years (1975-1978).


The story behind the movie comes from Sybil Rosen’s memoir “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley.”  The skillful screenplay co-written by Ethan Hawke and Sybil Rosen takes this romance, the perspective of Foley’s career and a look at a deeper question of fame to weave a thought provoking experience.


The film does not cover all the opportunities for fame that eluded Blaze. It does feature perhaps his biggest opportunity.  When he went on a drunken binge with his friend Townes Van Zandt, played by musician Charlie Sexton, in New York City.  I remember the joy of his friends when this opportunity arose and the disappointment when it failed.  Talking with my friend Blaze he told me, “I fucked up and I don’t know why.”


Blaze never achieved fame.  Some stories of his drunken misadventures seemed to indicate his legacy would be more infamy than recognition of his talent. Fortunately his music began to outshine his exploits.  Just as famous musicians like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, John Prine and others were beginning to perform his songs his life came to an untimely end.


Blaze never became a star.  His spirit certainly starred in Ben Dickey’s performance in this movie. It may take a little effort on your part to find this independent film and you may have to resort to watching it on DVD, video streaming are downloading it.  The big screen experience is worth the effort.  Go with a friend, you will want to share this experience.  Leaving the theater touched by the experience with the songs still playing in your mind you will finally understand why Blaze Foley has become a legend.

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