Ethan Hawke offers a conventional tale of decline and fall through a relatively freeform approach: the story of country and western singer Blaze Foley is segmented, scattered and intercut. Past the tangential folklore and aphoristic patter, there’s an adequately judged assessment of a popular musician. It’s not made obvious his levels of talent or depravity. Instead, snippets and suggestion overwhelm the narrative. We take his vice and skill as a given.
There’s a range of wholesome performances. Ben Dickey captures Blaze’s mumbling, Texan diction and expressive songwriting, while Alia Shawkat resonates affection, frustration and worldliness as his wife Sybil Rosen. The latter’s sympathetic role may be due in part to the screenplay’s basis, Rosen’s memoir. There are few others around to root for.
Former bandmates Zee (Josh Hamilton) and Townes Van Sant (Charlie Sexton) give robust support in the radio booth, augmenting and distorting Blaze’s posthumous legacy. These scenes are a subtle touch, bringing into disrepute the promise of hagiography. There’s a litter of comic moments, while Hawke calls in some recognisable friends as the record label trio trying to tie Blaze down to his basic contractual obligations.
Said to be a big influence on Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, the titular artist doesn’t appear to possess the genius one might expect. Alternating between taciturn humility and determined self-destruction, he’s a complicatedly spiritual man. But his music isn’t particularly inspiring, original or transcendent. His flame burns brightly and quickly before going out, but that sulphuric trajectory isn’t satisfying in itself. We need some sense of euphony.
Hawke presents the traditional route to drugs and excess through a pierced, fragmented chronology. Rockstar descent is made clear from the get-go. Characters breathe and sections enjoy an engaging, staggered regression. This film is baggy, long and pleasingly resistant to melody. Sentimentality is at one remove; happy endings are forfeited. But there’s an arrhythmic resolution, one of life played out tirelessly, of harmony among discord.
Blaze does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Locarno Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Locarno Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Blaze here: