(London Film Festival, October 20th, 2018, Curzon Soho, 15:15)
"Blaze" is inspired by the life of Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey), the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas outlaw music movement that spawned the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. The film weaves together three different periods of time, braiding re-imagined versions of Blaze’s past, present and future. The different strands explore his love affair with Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat); his last, dark night on earth; and the impact of his songs and his death had on his fans, friends, and foes. The braided storyline terminates in a bittersweet ending that acknowledges Blaze's profound highs and lows, as well as the impressions he made on the people who shared his journey.
The primary strand follows Blaze’s last night on earth, where he performs live at 'The Outhouse', a famous bar and music venue in Austin, Texas. At this authentic country music club, seeped in history and alcohol, at the age of 39, he finally records as many of his breathtaking songs as his limited resources will allow. These songs, ranging from soul crushing introspections to goofy political ditties, end up scoring both his life and the film. This final chapter of his life is full of friends, depravity, and a darkness, that descends and casts a shadow over his tragic final hours and all who witnessed it. The second strand explores his love affair with Sybil Rosen, which significantly informs his personal and professional journeys. Their romance begins in Georgia in the early 1980’s, in a tree-house, where creativity and confidence grow in equal measure. Their relationship weathers disapproving parents, an abortion, and a fledgling artistic identity, but eventually they decide to see if it can survive the real world. The couple takes a leap of faith and leaves their paradise in the woods by hitchhiking their way to Austin.
Their next home is a dirty yellow apartment that becomes a lonely abode for Sybil as Blaze travels and plays music in empty bars in no-where USA. At Blaze’s urging, they migrate to Chicago, where the weather mirrors their chilled love life, fraught with the challenges of his unsatisfied expectations and depressive demons. The third strand is set a few years after Blaze’s death, during a radio interview with Zee (Charles Adam) and Townes van Zandt (Charlie Sexton), Blaze’s fellow friends and musicians. The tension between the two is exposed as the reveal stories from their shared past with Blaze, which more often than not, are as dark as they are funny. Allegiance is called into question, along with the notion of a shared history, all working towards answering the question: what it means to be a legend. The braided storyline terminates in a bittersweet ending that acknowledges Blaze's profound highs and lows, as well as the impressions he made on the people who shared his journey.
"Blaze" is based on the memoir 'Living In The Woods In A Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley' by Kevin Triplett. It's the story of a consummate American songwriter, flawed, misguided at times, but pure in his intention and compassionate to his core. Blaze Foley was emotionally honest, his voice just laid your heart wide open. His first tunes recalled the gospel hymns he sang as a child. Inspired by John Prine, Merle Travis, and Woody Guthrie, among others, he borrowed from all kinds of music, folk, country, rag, punk, the blues. He was an Americana artist before the genre existed. He was a rambler. Stage fright, anger, and alcohol came too. In 1989 he died. This is how legends got born. And what's the legend? It’s the homeless troubadour refusing to bend to the demands of success. It’s the champion of the downtrodden, the bellicose drunk, the gentle giant children adored. But mostly it’s the music, so direct and authentic it feels as if he's singing about you personally, wrapping your life in melodies that can heal. It sounds simple but really, it’s a powerful thing to be seen. We understand our sensitivities as possibilities, not liabilities. We want to believe that the world’s brokenness, and our own, could be made whole through art.
Blaze Foley is 'The Snuffleupagus' of the outlaw country music scene. This film is a country western opera. The film aspires to be about creativity, and where it intersects with romantic love as a healthy manifestation, and where it intersects with narcissism as it’s negative manifestation. To separate the film and the film’s music is impossible. The film is about the music. And country music at it's simple best has an ability to penetrate. And people are always trying to make our whole generation feel like we need to specialize and excel in one area, but all these different art forms; writing, acting, singing, dancing, painting, photography, etc. all have way more in common than they're different. We've shaped one another in regards to the way we think about acting & movies. The film is extremely interested in a nonlinear relationship to time. How often moments that feel singular have their origin years before and their resolution years later. There’s a great mystery around human creativity; what it means to us, where it comes from, where it goes.