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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Blaze’ remembers a bright, doomed talent

The movie "Blaze" is playing at the Magic Lantern. Here is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio.

We’ve seen the story before.

A country boy discovers that he can weave a few words together in song. He ends up liking it so much it takes over his life. No time for jobs or mortgages or families. It’s all he can do to find enough time during the day to pen songs and practice his guitar pickin’, and at night to find a suitable place, in front of a suitable audience, in which to practice his art.

Oh, he can make a few bucks. Barely. And he can make time for women, especially if they serve as his muse. But maybe even important is drink. And drugs. Because, as it turns out, the very energy that fuels his music is the same energy that eats at his soul. And all of it – the women, the music and the drugs – is what he uses to ward off the dark emotions that threaten, at times, to overwhelm him.

As ultimately, despite everything, they will do.

Ethan Hawke seems to be obsessed with such stories. And with the men who inhabit them. He starred as the late jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in Robert Budreau’s 2015 biopic “Born to Be Blue.” And now he has told the story of the late country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley in a film he both wrote and directed and titled simply “Blaze.”

Born in in 1949 as Michael Fuller, the man who would become known as Blaze Foley was a musician’s musician – meaning that he was well known and appreciated by other performers both for the songs he wrote, which were recorded by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Lucinda Williams, and for the uniqueness of his character. One of Foley’s good-natured trademarks, along with his persistent embrace of poverty, was that he wore duct tape on his boots to lampoon the glitz of pop country stars (earning him the sometimes nickname of "Duct Tape Messiah").

But his style, either because of his similarity to more well-known singers such as John Prine or because of his tendency to perform drunk – and get in fights both with audience members and bar owners – had far less appeal among the general public.

And, then, of course he died relatively young – at age 39 – which ended his playing career but might have been the best for his music. Because his friends kept it alive. And now Hawke, adapting a memoir written by Foley’s former muse Sybil Rosen, has made “Blaze” the movie.

Ben Dickey plays Foley, and his performance is revelatory. If the heavyset Dickey doesn’t resemble the slender Foley exactly, he captures what he might have been like, both in spirit and in his ability to carry a song. And Dickey is well supported by a cast that includes Alia Shawkat as Rosen, Josh Hamilton as the fictional character Zee and Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zandt, who’s as capable at telling a tall tale as he and Foley are at playing their music.

So, yes, Ethan Hawke seems to be obsessed with such lost souls. But truth be told, in our own dark emotional corners, aren’t we all?