The film follows Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey) and his muse, Sybil (Alia Shawkat). courtesy IFC Films

Ethan Hawke’s “Blaze” emotionally nuanced

The film observes the life of Blaze Foley and the reverberations of his work.

I first heard about “Blaze” while reading Rolling Stone Country’s coverage of AmericanaFest in East Nashville. In the article, it described a set at one of the Fest’s more intimate venues, with actors Benjamin Dickey and Charlie Sexton playing the songs of Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt, who they portray in the film, respectively. This caught my eye because Sexton is currently Bob Dylan’s lead guitarist, and I thought it would be striking to see him portray Van Zandt.
When I watched the preview, the pull quote from’s glowing review of “Blaze” also caught my eye: “Hands down the best movie of its kind since ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’” With all of this in mind, and wanting to learn more about Foley and Van Zandt, I was excited to see “Blaze” at Circle Cinema, in what felt like a private screening with nobody else in the auditorium.

“Blaze” starts with two scenes running parallel to each other: Foley and Van Zandt drunk and rambling nonsense in a studio, as well as Foley and crew playing “Clay Pigeons” (the most ubiquitous of Foley’s songs) on somebody’s porch. After this, the film is presented through three intersecting storylines, each with a different purpose in advancing the narrative of Foley’s love affair with his muse and career in the music industry, the night he died and his legacy.
The main plot follows Foley’s relationship with his muse, Sybil Rosen (who co-wrote the film with director Ethan Hawke), which takes place alongside Foley’s trek into the music industry. The other two storylines illustrate different subplots, such as the relationship between Blaze, Townes and Zee (Blaze’s harmonica player) or the events of Foley’s last day. The timeline that struck me the most takes place after Foley’s death and consists of a radio interview between a DJ, Van Zandt and Zee. This way of advancing the narrative not only gives an interesting perspective on the events shown while Foley is still among the living, but also challenges the current understanding of Van Zandt and Foley’s relationship.
Throughout the interview, Van Zandt does the majority of the talking, and Zee is seemingly bewildered and disheartened at some of the claims Van Zandt makes about Foley. It paints Van Zandt almost as a villain, while Zee had been with Foley from the very beginning.

“Blaze” is an emotional film. Foley deals with self-destructive traits such as alcoholism, as well as love and loss. It is presented on the screen with an image and color that at times feels nearly overexposed and dreamy, with direction and style choices that sets it apart from most music biopics. A particularly emotional scene for me was when Sybil and Blaze arrive in Austin, Texas, after hitchhiking from rural Georgia. They meet Blaze’s sister at a hospital, where his father (Kris Kristofferson) is living. It’s explained that Foley and his sister used to sing at Pentecostal revivals, and they revisit one of their old numbers for his father. The elder Foley begins to cry while hearing his children perform again. It was shot beautifully and thoughtfully like the rest of the film, but the scene was too much for me as well. Let’s just say I’m glad I had the theater to myself.

courtesy IFC Films

Post Author: Will Gibson