I was not familiar with Blaze Foley, and he’s probably not the kind of music I would listen to anyway. However, I can tell Ethan Hawke loves him and gave him a loving biography.
Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey)’s bandmates give a radio interview to a DJ who’s never heard of him. They tell the story of Blaze Foley from his humble backwoods beginnings through his contentious fights with club owners, patrons and his own bandmates.
Most musician biopics follow the same pattern, and thank God they do. If they didn’t, there’d be no Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. But Dewey Cox May have trouble satirizing Blaze because it’s not as linear as the Rays or Walk the Lines of the world. Foley still descends into alcoholism, but it shows up at sporadic times, not in Oscar bait three act structure. The structure of the radio interview gives it more of an oral history vibe.
I can’t say I understood everything Blaze said but I believe Hawke does. Other characters don’t understand him either so I’m in good company. He sits in the woods philosophizing and people listen while he holds court. His worst behavior is tolerated for the sake of the music. His personal life is his relationship with Sylvia (Alia Shawkat). Even she encourages his music, even though she bears the brunt of his neglect. At first Foley is funny when he deals with hecklers. Later it becomes angry and destructive.
Hawke captures the world of Blaze Foley in widescreen glory. That means bars and backwoods cabins but they look majestic. Dickey is a discovery. He applies his musician charisma to Blaze and I’m sure he has some unique insight into the darkness. Shawkat completely feels like a woman who comes from this world.
There’s a lot of a Blaze Foley music. That’ll either introduce you to his work like me, or scratch the itch of Blaze Foley fans. I can’t say I’m going to go buy Blaze Foley albums or even add him to my Spotify playlists, but I’m glad I got to know his story.
It’s funny how many movies share the same title now. Usually it’s something generic like Hot Pursuit or No Escape. Both Blaze movies are named after real like people named Blaze. Perhaps they’d make a good double feature one day.