“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”—Sylvia Plath
I was an odd kid. Not creepy odd, but I saw things differently than others and I still do. When other kids wanted to play with Transformers, I wanted a stereo for my room so I could listen to vinyl and cassettes. I was 5 or 6 at the time. As I grew, my love for music has never waned; in fact it increases with every waking moment. I love all music, from popular to obscure ditties, but I really dig good rock. I love classic acts such as Zeppelin, The Stones, The Doors, The Clash and Jimi Hendrix. Today’s odyssey leading us into an optometric overdose is Jimi: All Is by My Side (2013).
Set in swinging London of 1966 & 1967, we are introduced to the beginning of the psychedelic exploration of the counterculture movement. The discovery of one gifted musician, Mr. Jimi Hendrix, Andre “3000” Benjamin of hip hop duo Outkast (yes, the shake it like a Polaroid picture guy). At the time, a relatively unknown backup guitarist coined Jimmy James; Hendrix is playing New York’s Cheetah Club. Along comes a muse, Linda Keith, Imogen Poots of 28 Weeks Later (2007), and he is off, struggling to find himself on the verge of becoming a rock legend before the release of his debut album, Are You Experienced?
Jimi: All Is by My Side, was written and directed by award winner John Ridley of TV’s American Crime (2015). Though this biopic focuses on one of the most influential guitarists of all time, it DOES NOT include any music written by Hendrix at all. Supposedly the Hendrix estate did not authorize producers with permission to the use of the Voodoo Child’s music. Good for the estate, they must have read the script. All guitar pieces were written and played by famous session musician, Waddy Wachtel. Wachtel is a well-known player that has jammed with the likes of Keith Richards, Iggy Pop, and Warren Zevon.
Upon its anticipated release, the film has stirred controversy for friends and family of Hendrix, with claims that the screenplay was fairly inaccurate and largely fictitious. These inaccuracies will tick off Hendrix enthusiasts, especially the movie’s implication that the key to Hendrix’s success was the fact Linda (Keith Richard’s old lady at the time) gave him Keef’s white Strat. Hendrix was already playing guitar masterfully by this time and had been for a few years since his medical discharge from the US Army, where he served as a paratrooper. Linda may have given him some styling tips, confidence, and support, but Hendrix was already well on his way as a guitarist for such acts like Little Richard before travelling to London after being introduced to Chas Chandler of The Animals.
The acting was good and Andre 3000 had the look, voice and mannerisms of Hendrix until it came to my suspension of disbelief shattered due to the fact that Andre can’t swing an axe and it shows. The visual style and cinematography was clean, warm, and very retro which captured the late 60’s vibe. Overall, the story was an absolute bore and was like a bad hit of L(ong) S(avorless) D(eath). The film felt like a lie, a slow drawn out lie, which ends up going nowhere and leaving the viewer yearning for the truth. When it was over, the film left me with a feeling of absolute relief that it was over and disdain for wasting close of 2 hours of my time that I could have spent reviewing a better movie or enjoying one of Hendrix’s awesome albums.
For a movie about music, people want to hear more music, see more performances (even if they are fake) and stop talking so bloody much. If all of these people around Hendrix really did talk this much, no wonder why he would space out and play his guitar so much…to stop hearing all of the needless drivel that didn’t drive the story. No offense to Lifetime Network, but I really believed I was watching a dull biopic focused on the struggling model Linda and her love triangle between Hendrix and Richards.
I wasn’t asking for a lurid tale of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, what I wanted was a creative story about the rise of a musician that I admire rather than a boring, downer of an overly chatty melodrama that simply had no point. Instead of documenting Hendrix’s touring, his creative process or an honest look at the sensitive and vulnerable musician, it relied on questionable accounts, and loose ends that were born from lazy fact checking in turn for artistic license to change history for what presumably sells. What can I say? When I rock, I like to rock and when I roll, I like to roll. The only rock Jimi produced was from the one thrown at my face, and the only roll came presumably from the legend in his grave over the material.
If you are just discovering Hendrix, explore the man through his music like intended and not this movie. If you are a fan, I’m truly sorry, look elsewhere for a Jimi fix. Hopefully, someone will come along to make a decent flick about Hendrix. Until then, we will sit patiently waiting and mouthing, “And so castles made of sand slips into the sea, eventually.”