Blaze Foley, fallen star
Blaze (three out of four stars) is a long, languid, elegiac ode to the life and legacy of Blaze Foley (1949-1989), a musician mourned by many but missed by few. For all his unmistakable talent, which is clearly conveyed in writer/producer/director Ethan Hawke’s biographical drama, Foley’s tendency toward self-destruction alienated many of those around him. Adapted from Sybil Rosen’s memoir Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by Rosen and Hawke, Blaze marks an auspicious acting debut for Ben Dickey in the title role, and affords co-star Alia Shawkat one of her best screen roles to date as Rosen, the actress/playwright who became Foley’s muse but whose adoration and encouragement only go so far.
The narrative is structured in a fashion similar to Citizen Kane (1941) – borrow from the best, after all – with Josh Hamilton (as longtime friend Zee) and Charlie Sexton (terrific as real-life musician Townes Van Zandt) relating Foley’s life story to a clueless radio host (Hawke) during an interview. Hawke’s character remains off-screen, at least until he inexplicably decides to reveal himself, reacting to their tale.
Foley seemed to hover not just on the periphery of the music industry, but of society in general. Dickey brings a burly, sometimes boorish, charisma to the role, and the screenplay (wisely) refrains from blind admiration. Blaze Foley made his mark and could have easily made a bigger one had he managed to straighten up. Yet he couldn’t and wouldn’t. It’s a cautionary tale that doesn’t (and needn’t) become preachy.
The film’s rambling rhythm is not without its attributes, and Blaze is steeped in the atmosphere and milieu of its music, yet it sometimes rambles too much – and given that the film makes no secret from the outset that he’s dead, the depiction of Foley’s ultimate fate feels less inevitable than anti-climactic.
Still, there’s much to savor here, including Steve Zahn, filmmaker Richard Linklater, and newly minted Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, extremely amusing as a trio of rookie record producers who (unwisely) bankroll their hopes on Foley’s music. This is one of the few films in recent memory that legitimately engenders sympathy for record executives.
– Blaze opens Friday at A/perture Cinema in Winston-Salem.