Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Blaze, plus Lucinda Williams review

Erika and I watched Blaze last night on Netflix, about Austin singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Foley was the subject of two songs by other more noted musicians ("Drunken Angel," by Lucinda Williams, and "Blaze's Blues," by Townes van Zandt) and himself the author of well-regarded country tunes like "Clay Pigeons," covered by John Prine, and "If I Could Only Fly" - covered by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (with Merle coming in on a verse). While there was nothing overwhelming about it, it's well worth seeing; it's gentle, expansive, fond of its subject matter, filled with striking images, and has excellent lead performances. Ben Dickey, whom I don't know at all, plays Foley, who, like Dickey, was born in Arkansas; 80's popstar and sometimes Bob Dylan band member Charlie Sexton does good work as Townes van Zandt; and there are smaller roles for Kris Kristofferson, Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, and Richard Linklater. It's directed by Ethan Hawke, and adapted from a memoir by Sybil Rosen, Foley's wife, who is played by Alia Shawkat, another performer I did not know (but who does fine work). I have not read Sybil Rosen's memoir; the film does have a bit of a "spouse's eye view" of Foley, putting the relationship front-and-centre in the narrative, reminding one of that Joy Division movie that was made a few years ago from the point of view of Ian Curtis' widow, but it does take in the years after Foley and Rosen separated.

Besides using Rosen's memoir and memories as a source, the filmmakers also seem to have done deep research into Townes van Zandt, since many of the jokes and anecdotes Sexton's character offers in the film are drawn from actual jokes and anecdotes that van Zandt told. (The whole story about voluntarily falling from a balcony, if I recall correctly, pops up in Be Here to Love Me, the documentary about van Zandt, which would make an excellent film to watch before or after Blaze).  I am not sure if the central "radio interview" conceit that the film is organized around, with Hawke as the DJ, quizzing van Zandt, is a fiction or not, but suspect it is. There's a nicely understated bit where van Zandt - as played by Sexton - tells an untruth and his collaborator gets up and leaves the studio, without comment. He does seem to have been a bit of an unreliable, if engaging and entertaining, source to draw from, as anyone who has heard his various, mutually incompatible explanations of "Pancho and Lefty" will realize...

Anyhow, it's an enjoyable film, my viewing of which was directly inspired by Lucinda Williams' anecdotes about Foley and Townes van Zandt at the Commodore the other night, which, by the by, I wrote a review of for the Straight. In point of fact, I only ever asked to write the review so I could get Erika into the show, which plan was foiled a little when she caught a very bad cold and bailed. I ended up going alone, not entirely wanting to, just to live up to my end of a bargain; it turns out I'm very glad to have been there, and am a much bigger fan of Williams than I was prior to the concert.

One little follow up: anyone who happens to read this who is publishing a book or such on the work of Townes van Zandt should note that yes, bev davies took photos of van Zandt in the 1980's when he was playing the Vancouver Folk Festival, which pretty much no one has seen. The one she's shown me is simply too good to get its world debut on a mere blog; someone go offer Bev some money for it!

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