SXSW – Paramount Theatre, March 16, 2018
Article by Stacey Lovett
Austin was a more than fitting location to premiere Ethan Hawke’s new film, Blaze, about the life and death of country outlaw unsung legend – the capital city’s own musician, Blaze Foley. The piece was more than a biopic, it served more as a memoriam of his legacy – a tribute to the truth-seeking troubadour struggling to make his voice heard in life and a story bringing light to his posthumous recognition. Hawke and Sybil Rosen – Foley’s real-life lover – co-wrote the screenplay and brought light to the more intimate side of this artist, both that of his reticent genius and his underlying struggles with mental illness.
The tale itself was told in three parts, braided together with an informing past and the present apprising the future. It opened with his good friend, fellow empath musician Townes Van Zandt (played by Charlie Sexton), speaking on Foley’s death and, having died in a non-materialistic state, he left behind his greatest treasure through his rich insights into the certainties of life. The film breaks into his early life finding his light with Sybil and growing into himself learning to collect the sparks of life and gaining confidence as he sings a seer’s song. He finds solace in the value of zero and though available to experiences, he has a difficult time handling them. In his relationship with Sybil, he truly does see daylight in her eyes and her having played such a pivotal role in the writing process translated that sensitive, restrained side of him to the screen. Portraying the duality of the artist – much of it stemming from his bi-polar disorder – validated Hawke and Rosen’s choice not to present a false narrative as he lived his life seeking the truth and that they would tell his story in the same manner. The film really dives into the darker sides of Foley showing the drunken dark barroom corner persona not otherwise desired in one’s life story, however, this played a huge role in both understanding him as an artist and in his artistry itself. Alongside finding the light in his transcendental abode in the woods beside his muse, he struggles with finding that confidence among others who don’t listen as closely. He holds a deep understanding that loneliness grows music and in losing his one saving grace he sells his soul to music with its purpose of perfecting the universe in its existence. Blaze Foley never wanted recognition as he believed stars only burn out; he simply wanted people to listen to his messages for songs live on forever through a greater legacy. This recognition of talent goes beyond the story of Blaze – the film makes note of other trailblazers in the outlaw country western scene even symbolically casting Kris Kristofferson as Blaze’s father, not to mention threw in a few other Austinites as well. The fact of his death is the ongoing fuel of the tale throughout the film as Townes Van Zandt’s character (Charlie Sexton) relays these experiences and deep reverence of this friend to a radio DJ (played by an unmasked Ethan Hawke) who, in dealing with music, wasn’t even aware of his existence. This all comes together in understanding back to where the film began with his death in the line of a single bullet – the last spark between lead and steel that ended the formation of a legacy.
To truly understand life, one must go live it, taking on all understanding of the good and bad; empathizing and drawing from it to perfect the universe. As a film that is amazingly Texan, it drew personal ownership from many locals in attendance – many personally recounting the very performances by him at the very own Outhouse venue portrayed in the film. Knowing the whole man – the true man – behind the music validates his legacy and the film brings awareness to his existence and what that, in turn, has gifted to our existence today. It creates a further understanding of the interconnectedness of life that Foley recognized and Hawke’s creation of his own masterpiece reignites the spark of Blaze Foley himself to a broader audience developing the awareness and appreciation this legacy deserves.