Jimi: All Is By My Side
Misjudged biopic of Jimi Hendrix is heavy on the soap opera, light on the tunes
People have been trying but failing to make movies about guitar god Jimi Hendrix for decades, almost since Jimi died, at 27, in 1970. Screenwriter John Ridley, Oscared for 12 Years a Slave, finally pulls one off. Sadly, the result will not satisfy many.
The most obvious problem? The film was denied use of Jimi’s music by the Hendrix estate. Ridley tries to circumvent that by setting the film entirely in 1966-67, the year in which the struggling backup musician changed tack, exploded onto the London scene and embarked on his legendary rock stardom. We do see and hear reinterpretations of classics (most memorably ‘Killing Floor’) and a cheeky tribute (‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’). But the only ‘Purple Haze’ is the leading man in velvet flares tripping out.
Ridley, who has directed one previous feature (the 1997 crime clunker Cold Around the Heart), ditches the usual rags to riches biopic clichés, but fusses with weird jump cuts, odd inserts, and tiresome sound and camera tricks like an experimental film student. Full credit to André Benjamin — aka André 3000 — who, at 39, immerses himself fully in 23-year-old Jimi. Benjamin learned to play left-handed, creditably grasps Hendrix’s synthesis of emotion, spirituality and artistry, looks great in electric gypsy clobber, and deserves his performance to be showcased in a better film.
Almost everyone in the cast is too much older than the people they are playing — even Imogen Poots as self-appointed muse Linda Keith, the teenaged model / girlfriend of Keith Richards who hooked Hendrix up with a manager (and, allegedly, psychedelic substances), and certainly Hayley Atwell as Kathy Etchingham, Jimi's long-term love — while the Beatles, Stones, Cream lookalikes of Swinging London are laughable.
Too little music and too much soap opera, including shocking scenes of physical abuse which the real Kathy hotly denies occurred, amount to Jimi: All Is By My Side being pants. Groovy purple bell bottoms, but still pants.
Selected release from Fri 24 Oct.