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Brilliant But Bedeviled, Blaze Foley’s Complex Life Comes To The Belcourt Screen

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IFC Films
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Lucinda Williams recently announced a tour this Fall marking the 20th anniversary of her landmark album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. One of its many exceptional songs was “Drunken Angel” about her friend the late and under-rated Austin songwriter Blaze Foley. Foley may be considerably less obscure after the coming national release of Blaze, an understated narrative film co-written and directed by Ethan Hawke.

 

Foley was an eccentric artist who haltingly pursued what Austin writer Doug Freeman called “a career mired in substance abuse and self-sabotage.” His songs never reached a wide audience because of a series of mishaps that prevented him from releasing any records in his 39 years of life.

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Blaze Foley in life.

  

Blaze is based on the memoir Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by his ex-wife Sybil Rosen. With impressionistic vignettes, it’s both a tragic parable and a tender love story. LIke Hank Williams, Foley was said to veer unpredictably between being an empathic delightful person and a dysfunctional, unreliable wreck. He came to a violent end in 1989.

The film premiered at Sundance in January and quickly earned leading man Ben Dickey - a songwriter who’d never acted before - a jury award. It’s been widely and well reviewed, and it was clearly a labor of love for Hawke, whose previous films as a director/writer are also musical, a documentary about a New York classical piano educator and 2006's The Hottest State.

Hawke told radio station KEXP he’s a fan many excellent musicians who never achieved fame in a world where bio-pics are almost exclusively about iconic household names. “In the back of my mind, I though I’d like to make a music movie about a guy who didn’t make it. That would be true to life. I’d like to see that movie,” he said.

So he collaborated with Rosen, who’s played in the film by Alia Shawkat, to illuminate a man who’s already something of a legend in Americana cirlces. Foley's "speaking in his songs about lost people and forgotten people and lost places and forgotten places. And he has a great truth. And he came to it a real hard way,” Hawke said.

Blaze opens Friday at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater with a three day run of screenings featuring Q&As with Hawke, Dickey and Charlie Sexton who plays his friend and colleague Townes Van Zandt.

The movie’s soundtrack will be available on CD and vinyl on Sept. 21st from Light in the Attic Records.