Who is this American country and western singer called BLAZE? For one, he is not that famous that many have heard of him. Blaze Foley (played by non-actor Ben Dickey) is supposed to be the one that blazed (pardon the pun) the way for Willie Nelson. And why would actor Ethan Hawke make it his ambition to direct his biography and co-write the script with his girl Sybil, based on her book? That could be the very reason Hawke decided to do it – that Blaze was that ordinary a person. To Hawke’s credit, as much as I am a non-fan of country music, BLAZE is a remarkable piece of work, one that comes across as a sincere warts and all tale of Blaze Dexter.
The film interweaves three stories into one. The first is Blaze’s love affair with Sybil, the second of his songs as he performs around the country and at his home bar, often not that successfully and the third is the story told by his two buddies after his death. The latter is told from an interview conducted by Hawke himself, his back to the camera and him smoking away just as all the characters in the bio do. Hawke has created the total character of his subject showing both his ease at creativity as well as the demons haunting him, that include his drinking. He smashes the guitar that Sybil saved her money up to get for him in one self-destructive act after being being thrown off stage for insulting the audience. It is his love, loneliness, creativity, insecurity and self-destructiveness that make up a life wonderfully created by Hawke on screen.
Are his songs good? Well the genre is country western, but Blaze’s songs (there is rendering of songs like “If I Could Fly”) are at least decent, though one can hardly tell from the film as Blaze plays to empty bars most of the time.
The film contains messages in terms of life lessons subtly dished out to the audience. One can be learnt from the way Blaze died – by taking a bullet in the stomach after intervening with the son who stole his father’s security check. When asked whether he wants to be a star, Blaze says no, that he wants to be a legend. He tells to his girl seriously but smiling while they hitch a ride at the back of a pick up, ‘a star shines for himself; a legend is forever and for things that matter.” This is one of the film’s very poignant and effective moments, that captures the spirit and genius of Blaze, a man so casual that his insight passes through you.
The real BLAZE can be observed in the reading aloud of a heartfelt written letter he writes to Sybil, telling her of his love for her and his true feelings about his music.
Hawke captures the drama in the man’s life – the difficulties of both his relationship with Sybil and his performances. One of the film’s most amusing scenes is Blaze’s encounter with an offer by three record label’s representatives played by Richard Linklater, Steve Zahn and Sam Rockwell.
In the end, Hawke’s non-judgemental bio leaves the audience to make up their minds on whether Blaze Foley was a loser with no money or a cool guy. Legend? I don’t think so.