Ethan Hawke has always been a face of Indie cinema, particularly because of his collaborations with the directors like Richard Linklater. As a result, John Cassavetes is an inevitable influence on him, who is often considered as a pioneer of US independent cinema. Maybe that’s why Alia Shawkat (Sybil in Blaze) mentioned in an interview how Ethan wanted it to be as close to a Cassavetes’ film it can be. He definitely knows how to pull out strong performances from the actors and bring authenticity. Especially with a non-actor like Ben Dickey, it sure doesn’t seem amateur.

And there’s a reason why Ethan chose to make a film about a rather forgotten blues-artist, Blaze Foley. Blaze was never really out there to get fame in any way. In fact, he just wanted to create something that would be the culmination of his growth and identity. “Stars burn out because they shine for themselves. Legends live forever. Something that lasts”, Blaze’s character says in one of the scenes. Hawke may have found himself in his story. That’s why the film feels so personal. “People always make films about the ones who achieved success. Why not make a film about a guy who didn’t make it,” Hawke says in an interview. The affection is quite apparent.

Blaze showcases various incidents throughout Foley’s life from different perspectives, juggling between different timelines. So, the film doesn’t feel like a structured play but like a rambling verse that keeps adding to itself; until someone loses interest. Hawke’s clear focus seems to be about a feeling.  You see his friends and collaborators Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) and Zee (Josh Hamilton) being interviewed for the radio after his death. Whether it actually happened or is merely a plot device is immaterial. It gives insights into the late singer based on memories that can elude one into saying things that someone won’t say usually.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Also Read: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Wings of Folk Singer’s Desire

Then there was the last day of his recording where he was playing in a country bar, which is shown here with multiple details. The camera captures the raw and unadulterated essence of a live experience. Hawke probably wanted to represent the multiple types of reactions that the singer used to face. That’s why he refuses to cut in order to keep a continuous flow for the whole scene. And while this is being shown, we revisit Blaze’s memories through the beautifully-cut montages from his young adulthood. Meanwhile, during the performance, he goes on rambling about the unfeasible ideas that he used to find solace in. He reminisces the days where he agrees to have been gullible or naive.

Blaze’s growth as an artist reflects in the film. His muse Sybil Rosen, who shares the writing credits with Hawke here, was the reason that the singer discovered facets of his own personality. Their relation comes off to be very intimate in the film, without an ounce of pretense. Not just from Sybil’s perspective, but the romantic relationship we encounter feels to come from a deeply personal space, from Hawke as well. And it isn’t spoiled by the film’s stylistic choices. The overall yellowish tint doesn’t give a clichéd nostalgic vibe. It adds a certain amount of warmth to the narrative of a guy who loved someone unconditionally. As a result, nothing feels inauthentic or fake in any way.

Ben Dickey, who plays the lead here, is the reason why Hawke wanted to create the film in the first place.  As Hawke says in an interview, Dickey once played Clay Pigeons when they met and it seemed natural coming from his voice. Even if he doesn’t sound like Foley, he doesn’t try to imitate him either. Moreover, he infuses the humor associated with that setting which was his own improvisation. Alia Shawkat gives a mesmerizing performance which doesn’t feel inauthentic even for a second. She brings the genuineness that Cassavetes used to bring to the table.

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As Van Zandt’s character says in that interview, Foley understood the importance of ‘zero’; more precisely, the value of zero. He was a failure, a drunken angel, by his own choice. In one of the scenes, where Sybil’s character is enacting a play based on Kafka; she goes on about how she understands that in order to learn, one must suffer. Many scene offerings such as this provide more insight into his beliefs. When she is worried whether her days of being his muse are over, he believes that they had just started. We see someone quite determined about one’s choice. “Confidence is a consolation prize of being alive”, a younger version of him saying this seems to have come a long way of experiencing it. Blaze is more aware of how his actions affect others now. No other person was going to choose his destiny other than him.

Unlike other drunken forgotten artist-portrayals, it doesn’t try to make us feel remorse for the character for how the world was cruel on him. It doesn’t ask for forgiveness for his actions or make us sympathize with his destructive behavior. The approach is more empathetic than sympathy-seeking. It seems more interested in showcasing those situations and incidents that made him write that way. It is spontaneous, it is organic and it never loses its soul.



Blaze (2018) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Where to watch Blaze (2018)

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