Country singer and songwriter Blaze Foley was much admired within his realm, but he was also a big ornery sucker who drank too much. When his significant other Sybil Rosen introduced Blaze to her parents, her mother took one look and reportedly wept. I myself wept when I read about Foley’s habit of wearing duct tape wrapped around his boots (total low-rent asshole move), and how he once made a suit out of duct tape (worse), and how his casket was wrapped in the stuff. (Foley was shot to death at age 39 in 1989.)
From “Song Of a Poet Who Died in the Gutter“: “It almost goes without saying that films about musicians will focus on boozy, self-destructive behavior — Walk The Line, Bird, I Saw The Light, Payday, Michael Apted‘s Stardust, etc. But Blaze feels home-grown and self-owned in a subdued sort of way. It has a downmarket, lived-in vibe. I wasn’t exactly ‘entertained’, but every line, scene and performance felt honest and unforced.
Gifted but temperamental, Foley (Ben Dickey) never really got rolling as a recording artist, but he was a well-respected outlaw artist with a certain following in the ’70s and ’80s. Dickey’s purry singing style, similar to Foley’s, reminds me of a sadder Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”).
Hawke focuses on the guy’s soft, meditative side and particularly his relationship with real-life ex Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat). He gets a truly exceptional performance out of Dickey, a hulking, elephant-sized musician who’s never acted prior to this. Dickey’s Foley is such a good fit — centered, settled, unhurried — that I nearly forgot about the bulk factor.
Blaze offers noteworthy supporting perfs from Kris Kristofferson (as Foley’s dad), Sam Rockwell, Richard Linklater, Steve Zahn (as a trio of record company partners) and Josh Hamilton, among others.
The script was co-written by Hawke and Rosen, author of a relationship memoir titled titled “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley“. You can just sense that Hawke knows musician behavior like his own. Hell, I was one myself (i.e., a mediocre drummer) for a while, and know the turf to some extent, and it all feels right.
Does the 127-minute length seem a bit long? Maybe. I was talking to a couple of critics who felt this way. I wasn’t bothered — the laid-back pacing agrees with the rural milieu and contemplative, occasionally surly country-dude attitude.
(l. to r.) Blaze star Ben Dickey, cowriter Sybil Rosen, director-cowriter Ethan Hawke.
Posted just after Sundance: In Steven Soderbergh‘s The Limey, Nicky Katt‘s “Stacy” delivered an improvised bad-attitude riff while he and Joe Dallesandro watched a TV show being shot. “Why don’t they make shows about people’s daily lives?,” Katt said. “That you’d be interested in watching, y’know? Sick Old Man or Skinny Little Weakling. Big Fat Guy…wouldn’t you watch a show called Big Fat Guy? I’d watch that fucking show.”
(l. to r.) Blaze director/cowriter Ethan Hawke, Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat during Sundance Film Festival press conference.
That was almost 19 ago, which was kinda lucky in a way because today you’re not allowed to say “big fat guy” in a movie as this would constitute fat-shaming, and anyone deemed guilty of writing or saying this would be eternally banished from the film industry and forced to move to somewhere in the hinterland to work in fast food.