Jimi Hendrix is arguably one of the best rock guitarists of all time. He was known for his promotion of love, and with that, a somewhat apathetic attitude toward the world. Ironically, Jimi’s apathetic tone translates to general apathy for his new biopic, Jimi: All Is By My Side.
The film takes place over roughly one year: June 1966 to June 1967. The film begins when Jimi (Andre Benjamin) is spotted playing guitar at the Cheetah Club by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), the girlfriend of Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards. Jimi’s amazing riffs on the guitar overpower the dark, depleted club. Keith is absolutely mesmerized by his performance and by proxy asks him over to her apartment along with her friends. Keith, Hendrix, and their friends trip on acid and in this moment of weakness, the two begin their deeply intimate friendship.
The two start a friendship, and Keith feels compelled to let the world know about Hendrix’s chaotic genius. She attempts to bring music executives to his performances, but his indifference toward her efforts equates to lackluster performances on his part. The executives leave unimpressed. It is only by a chance encounter with Chas Chandler of The Animals that Richards is able to find a manager for Hendrix. Chandler, like Keith, understands that Hendrix has the ability to be a superstar and asks him to move out to London to start his career. On his first night in London, he meets Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), a fiery redhead and his future girlfriend, much to the dismay of Richards. Keith distances herself from Hendrix and the rest of the film focuses on his rise in the European music scene and his abusive relationship with Etchingham—leading up to his arrival to the American music scene with the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967.
By only filming one year in Hendrix’s life, the biopic intends to go for a distinctive, more documentary feel than the average dramatized version of rock and roll life. Kudos to writer/director John Ridley for originality. This is an unorthodox method for making a biopic, but is understandable, especially considering that the film lacks a coherent plot. Many people portrayed in the film, however, including Etchingham, claim that several main elements in the film are fictitious.
The premise of the film is a look at Hendrix in the year leading up to his famous burning guitar at Monterey. It’s a false biopic, and this lack of authenticity makes its plot less believable, compelling. The editing and fancy camerawork is original, but only exemplifies the poor qualities of the film. Too many fade-to-blacks and montages of ’60s London pop culture shake up the movie, and they make the central plot seem all the more unreal. Ridley’s style might have shined on this film, if he had written a better story to match with the compelling historical context running through All Is By My Side.
The film is poorly patched together, and it falls apart on multiple levels. The fact that the film could not receive the rights to have the bulk of Hendrix’s music played in the film should have been reason enough not to make it. A great biopic, like any film, should never have to be creatively restricted on account of an executive producer’s unprofessional and dull attempt. Yes, a lot of Hendrix’s riffs and theatricality are good to watch and listen to, but the only song we hear Hendrix sing is “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” If there is no “Purple Haze” or “All Along the Watchtower” anywhere in the film, even as a background track, the film is just not worth it.
The only redeeming aspects to this film are its unique visual style and Benjamin, who gives a very convincing portrayal of Hendrix.
One of Hendrix’s most famous adages goes: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Sadly, the “power of love” does not make this film any better. The passion Benjamin puts into the role of Hendrix is drowned out by the shortcomings of a screenplay and the film’s ineffective style of storytelling.
Featured Image Courtesy of Darko Entertainment