Imagine that Bob Dylan was never inspired to write something as perfect as “Blowin’ in the Wind” or if post-Beatles Paul McCartney didn’t release “Maybe I’m Amazed” on his first solo album. What if the Beatles had stayed together through the ’70s? Would they have recorded another album as admired as Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
What if a beloved song, film or piece of art was never created? How many of these masterpieces have we lost throughout the years?
Those questions are at the heart of Blaze, a musical biopic on country-music singer and songwriter and San Antonio native Blaze Foley. His songs have been covered by luminaries such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and John Prine.
Foley (played magnificently by breakout star Ben Dickey), with his unbridled talent, hoped to give audiences as much of himself as he could for as long as he could. Blaze is an ode to a highly-gifted, troubled legend who left the industry (and this earth) with his own distinct brand of folk and country music, which seemed to arise from the depths of his soul. As tortured artist biopics go, it’s an authentic addition to the genre.
Blaze is based on the memoir Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by Foley’s muse Sybil Rosen, who co-wrote the screenplay with the film’s director, four-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter and actor Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight).
In the film, which would make a wonderful double feature with Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2013 drama Inside Llewyn Davis, Hawke tells the story of Foley’s rise to fame – from the time he’s living rent-free in a dilapidated shack in the forest with Sybil (Alia Shawkat) to their journey to Austin and Chicago so they could introduce the world to his music.
Fortunately, Hawke is more interested in tapping into Foley as a man and musician battling drug and alcohol addiction than he is about maneuvering through every nuance of his turbulent career, which comes to an end in 1989 when he is shot and killed by the son of a friend during an altercation. Foley was only 39.
Hawke delivers a captivating narrative about a man who was larger than life. As Foley, Dickey might not be the biggest name Hawke could have cast, but in him he discovers the spirit and musicianship that Foley brought to the stage for every performance at every hole-in-the-wall bar he stopped at – even when under the influence.
“Where does a real song come from?” Foley asks in the film. “Where was it before it arrived?” Wherever that place is, Foley was a master at finding it, and Blaze is equally capable of depicting that profound emotion on screen.