This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.

A different, more personal take on the Blaze Foley story than the (also great) Tales from the Tour Bus episode – this one duct-tapes the opening title and some clothing along the way but never tells duct tape stories or even directly acknowledges it. It’s a different approach for a biopic, taking a not-so-famous subject and refusing to tell the memorably quirky stories about him. Loosely structured around a concert (which was recorded, available on CD!) a month before he was killed defending a friend, and a radio interview with Townes Van Zandt regaling a clueless DJ with Blaze stories.

I watched this half for the country music stories and half for Alia Shawkat as Blaze’s wife Sybil. At least I think they got married, I forget, maybe not, but I might’ve found clarification at the Landmark Q&A with the real Sybil had I known it was happening. The other biopic-unusual thing here is telling the life story out of order, editing scenes more for emotional flow than narrative structure. I learned my lesson about watching movies about real-life musicians (this week I’m skipping Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters), but this sounded good from reviews, and dammit, it was real good.

With musicians Ben Dickey and Charlie Sexton as Blaze and Townes, plus Kris Kristofferson, Gurf Morlix, and Steve Zahn as an oilman-turned-record executive. This movie’s gonna end up like Blaze’s music, never well-known but passed around and talked about by fans, used (with Bird) as a counter-example when someone tells us all musician dramas are bad.

Decker has a new film at Sundance, so I checked out her debut… watched this 70-minute feature after work, floated off to dinner thinking about how much I loved it, then discovered the people I follow on letterboxd didn’t love it at all. Someone must’ve recommended it – Richard Brody, maybe. Anyway, everyone’s loving the new one to death, so I’m feeling ahead of the curve in my appreciation.

Starts out disorienting – Sarah gets a call from someone we haven’t seen, who has woken up in a strange apartment, and she’s yelling panicked orders into the phone. Then after a night clubbing, Sarah appears to be in the same situation herself. That’s the end of city life – the next scene has her meeting old friend Isolde at a Bulgarian folk music camp on the other coast, their reunion scene shot completely out of focus. Overall the camera and editing choices are completely bizarre, keeping me on my toes through what could’ve been a typical semi-improvised indie drama. The playfully strange filmmaking combined with a scenario where we never find out who anyone is or what’s going on reminded me of The Strange Little Cat. We also get slow focus pulls, cutaways to slugs, sudden witchy/culty flash-edits, a Blair Witch-like scene, and of course, much performance and dancing to Bulgarian folk music. Eventually Sarah starts drifting apart from Isolde as Sarah is falling for fellow camper Charlie Hewson, then she seems to drown him in the lake.

Sarah:

Isolde with the Dancing Woman: