“So you’re gonna be a big country star?,” Sybil asked.
“I don’t want to be a star,” Blaze said, “I want to be a legend.”
Based on Sybil Rosen’s Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze (2008), Ethan Hawke’s third directing work, Blaze (2018), captures the life of legendary roots musician Blaze Foley. The movie is braided with three timelines, including Blaze’s past, present, and future. The story explores the love affair between Blaze and Sybil Rosen, his last night on Earth, the influence his song had on the fans, and the shock of his death amongst friends.
The author Sybil Rosen and Director Ethan Hawke | Image Via Strand Books
Blaze Foley (1949 – 1989) | Image Via Last.fm
Raised in San Antonio, Texas, Blaze Foley was actually named Michael David Fuller who had the nickname of “Deputy Dog.” Inspired by his favorite musician Red Foley, Blaze started to use “Blaze Foley” as his stage name. In 1975, following his passion for music, Blaze moved into a small artist community in Georgia where he met Sybil, a 24-year-old actress, recently graduated from college and returned to her parents’ house in Virginia. They fell in love with each other and became inseparable then.
The couple decided to pack up and move into a small wooden shelter named “Udo” where they cherished a blissful time in the forest. In the following years, Blaze started to write his own songs and decided to embark on a music tour. On the road, they hit Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and, finally, Austin, Texas. Yet, with his addiction to alcohol due to career pressure, Blaze and Sybil’s relationship went reached a sad end.
Sybil (Alia Shawkat) and Blaze (Benjamin Dickey) in the film | Image Via The Iris – The AU Review
Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze is written from Sybil’s perspective of how she’s been with this guy she’s loved for much of her life, with memory, longing, intimacy, and loss. She’d been the muse for Blaze for many years and “If I Could Only Fly” is the farewell song for them. As the lyrics said, “You know, sometimes, I write happy songs / Then some little thing goes wrong / I wish they all could make you smile.” Blaze and Sybil were truly happy being together. She once recalled their past old days:
We were both really, really shy, so we kind of circled around each other for a while, but I think what was so powerful for me was once I heard him sing and I saw that incredible depth of feeling and his gift. It seemed that there was a certain inevitability to our getting together.
Sybil Rosen’s memoir gave Hawke new insights into the musician and inspired him to reimagine this unheard singer. He drafted this Texas unsung singer and songwriter more like a fiction rather than a documentary. In an interview with FilmJournal, Hawke said:
In Sybil’s book Blaze was so much more interesting a person than I thought he was…I didn’t want to make another story about drug addiction. Having the story be their love affair, the tree house they lived in, all of a sudden I thought this would be fun to write about.
Scene in the film | Image Via Variety
In a tragic twist, Blaze was shot and killed by Carey January, the son of his friend, in 1989. He left so suddenly that no one could accept the ending of such a legend. Sybil once claimed that, “When I sat down to write, I felt like the only way I could make real peace with Blaze’s memory was to be as honest as I could about who I was in that relationship. I just feel so incredibly lucky that I got to know him at the time of his life that I did.”
Though the past could never come back, the legend can. Hawke’s Blaze held its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and received a wave of positive feedbacks. The local debut will be in August in Texas and in all other markets in September.
Featured Image via The Iris – The AU Review