Consider it a tale of two songwriters. An Arkansas native who played clubs in Austin in the 1970s, singer-songwriter Blaze Foley played the same clubs that fellow-songwriter Townes Van Zandt played. The two became friends, and Van Zandt would turn into an iconic figure in the outlaw country movement. Though he experienced some success, Blaze Foley didn’t have the same good fortune. (For a touching tribute to the man, check out the somber Lucinda Williams tune “Drunken Angel”).
, a new biopic from director Ethan Hawke, who adapted his screenplay from a book that Sybil Rosen about the time she spent with Foley, effectively dramatizes the man’s life. Singer-songwriter Ben Dickey gives a remarkable performance as Blaze, a burly guy who walked with a limp and came off as a gentle giant when he wasn’t blind drunk. But as much as Dickey does a terrific job in portraying Blaze and all his complexity, the movie’s disjointed narrative structure turns it into a sometimes-tedious affair.
The movie opens tomorrow at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
At the film’s onset, Blaze falls for Sybil (Alia Shawkat) one day when they meet at a community theater. They move into a rustic cabin that’s more of a shack, and Blaze starts writing songs while Sybil works on honing her acting skills. In the attempts to jumpstart Blaze’s career, the two move out of the cabin and find a place in Austin, a city known for embracing singer-songwriters. When Blaze struggled to find his footing, they would continue to move to different cities.
Foley has a brush with success when he releases the wistful single “If I Could Only Fly” and gets a high profile gig opening for author and singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman at New York’s Lone Star Café. When he shows up so drunk that he can hardly perform, he squanders that opportunity.
Ultimately, Blaze’s story is a tragic one, and the singer-songwriter doesn’t live to see his forties.
By switching back and forth between what Blaze’s life was like when he lived in the cabin with Sybil to an interview in which Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) sings his praises and a famous gig at the Austin Outhouse that was recorded for a live album, the film constantly moves from one time period to another. The choppy transitions make it difficult to get a grip on Blaze’s trajectory, and some scenes could’ve been trimmed or left out completely.
Try as they might, the tender tunes that make up the terrific soundtrack just can’t hold the whole thing together.