SIFF Film Review – Jimi: All Is by My Side
Jimi: All Is by My Side
I hate the 1960s. (Although I was born in 1968, so I’m going to give that year a pass.) I hate biopics, especially ones about musicians. I also hate listening to oldies music stations – including ones that play the music from my teen years, the 1980s. Live in the now, people! So reviewing a biopic about Jimi Hendrix is a bit of a problem for me, because I am predisposed not to care. But you know what? A good movie can overcome all that. There is almost nothing I love more than having a good story knock aside my preconceptions. I might resist getting in the chair, but once a great film has a hold of me, I don’t ever want to leave that seat. Unfortunately, the new film Jimi: All Is by My Side directed by John Ridley, which opened the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, not only wasn’t able to overcome my dislike of the genre, it managed to convince me that Jimi Hendrix was the most annoying person on the planet. EVER. (Not really. I love you Jimi; just not this version of your story.)
The film starts out in the mid 1960s and Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) is playing guitar in a band wearing cheetah print shirts at the Cheetah lounge. Keith Richard’s girlfriend Linda (Imogen Poots) is in the audience and sees something in Hendrix that is not obvious to anyone else. She uses her connections to get him a manager – Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), former bassist for the Animals. She loves Jimi, but theirs is a love that can never be. He moves to London and finds a new woman, Kathy (Hayley Atwell). He’s kind of moody and not very good at planning and follow-through, but Chas manages to get him noticed, and Hendrix’s fame starts to build. He’s mean to Kathy, starts hanging out with a new lady, Ida (Ruth Negga), decides he’s not interested in being a symbol for “his people”, and mutters a lot of platitudes about love. Then he gets to play for The Beatles. And then the movie ends. (Look him up on the Internets if you don’t know how his story turns out.)
I liked just about all of the performances. Andre Benjamin has a lot of charisma, and some of that shows through here. He does the best with what he’s got – which can be said for almost all of the actors. Imogen Poots gives Linda a nice vulnerability, as does Hayley Atwell with Kathy. The actor with the best-written part is Andrew Buckley as Chas, and I spent a great deal of time wanting to know more about his story. Oliver Bennett is also pretty adorable as band mate Noel Redding. The costumes were nice.
The rest of this movie is total crap. Please understand that movies based on “true stories” are usually totally made-up, and when I say that Jimi Hendrix is a mumbling moron, I’m not talking about the real Jimi. I’m talking about the Jimi in the script for this movie. As written, he is a person who is devoid of any personality or attributes. Hendrix appears to be sleeping through life – making no decisions and having no desires or agency. The film hints that he might have an interesting story: his father seems kind of difficult, drug addiction is mentioned in passing, and he had to learn how to play the guitar somewhere. But none of these ideas are explored; we just watch Hendrix walk through rooms and occasionally smack some girl around. Also, he was the WORST boyfriend: easily manipulated, physically abusive, and never wanted to go out and have fun. I can see why all the best groupies wanted to be his.
And that’s all the women in this movie are: groupies. There is a lot of time spent on his relationships, and I guess that makes sense since plot-wise since he doesn’t really do anything else. Linda is controlling, but untouchable. Kathy is controlling and stupid. Ida is controlling and a freaking psycho. The film doesn’t hesitate to pit the women against each other for the awesome prize of a rock star who might as well be in a coma for all the fun he is. Ugh. (His biographer Charles R. Cross and former girlfriends dispute the physical abuse, btw.) This movie is almost two hours long and a no point do we get a sense of who Jimi Hendrix is. He’s a cipher! He’s deep! He makes Eric Clapton feel like crap because he is so good! He’s beyond the petty considerations of race! He’s beyond human speech! And honestly, he’s beyond boring. If you want a nice taste of what Hendrix was like, go on Youtube and look up his interview with Dick Cavett; don’t waste your time trying to see him reflected in this film. He’s not here.