Friday, March 27, 2015

Jimi: All is By My Side

Directed by John Ridley.
2013. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Andre Benjamin
Imogen Poots
Hayley Atwell
Ruth Negga
Burn Gorman
Ashley Charles
Amy De Bruhn
Andrew Buckley
Claire-Hope Ashitey

A year in the life of Jimi Hendrix (Benjamin), more or less. We catch up with him in 1966 playing in a little club as a backup guitarist. Keith Richards' girlfriend, that's how she describes herself, is in the crowd and seems to be the only one who recognizes that the man is a guitar-playing genius. Linda Keith (Poots), that's her name, makes it her mission in life to make Jimi a star. Jimi mostly shrugs his shoulders, gets high, shows up wherever he's told to be, gets on stage and does whatever he wants, audience be damned. He also has a way with women that gets them fighting over him regardless of how he treats them.

In the lead role, Andre Benjamin turns in his best acting performance, outside of the music video for "Hey Ya," of course. His passion for the project shines through. He gives us an eclectic and aloof musician who struggles to see beyond the end of his guitar. He's also incredibly prone to the power of suggestion. On the other hand, he's not as oblivious as he seems. For instance, he makes several profound points on music and race. During these moments, Benjamin really shines as we can almost see the bulb light up over his head only to fade away by the end of the scene. He really seems to capture the spirit of Jimi Hendrix thoroughly and effortlessly.

Thanks to Benjamin's work and that of the supporting cast this is a very watchable movie. All four of the ladies in his life are portrayed through excellent performances. Imogen Poots is particularly good as Linda. She plays each almost perfectly, conveying the exact emotion needed to make a scene work. Hayley Atwell and Ruth Negga work wonders together as Jimi's most steady girlfriend Kathy and Ida, the girl who wants to replace her, respectively. Most of the scenes that don't feature Jimi show these two ladies together. Kathy clinging to her spot for dear life while Ida slyly manipulates her and everyone around provides us with a fun, if soap operish angle. In a thankless, truncated role, Claire-Hope Ashitey as Faye takes a no-nonsense approach to dealing with our hero that also provides some well done melodrama.

Unfortunately, the movie around these performances fails to hold water. The biggest problem is that it never seems to know what it wants to say about its legendary subject. when it reaches the end, it pretends it gives us a pair of triumphant moments as if to say this is what all his hard work was for. However, we just spent the last two hours watching Jimi being dragged kicking and screaming to his own prosperity. His fame appears more the product of the effort of others than anything he did. In fact, he repeatedly subverts those efforts through his antics. If not for the conviction of people who believed in his talent, the world may never have heard of Jimi Hendrix. This is fine, if that's how it played out in real life, but don't tell me this only to try and make him out to be this guy that worked tirelessly to be a star.

The biggest symptom of this problem is that his music is absent. We hear him playing constantly and put a band together, but if you've never heard a Jimi Hendrix song before watching this, you've still never heard one. This has to do with licensing issues and therefore cannot be fixe, but it gives the movie an incomplete feel. We still have no clue what the big deal is. All we really get is that he often pissed people off during his stage shows and got terrible reviews for everything he did. Yet, we're simultaneously told how much bigger he's getting. At one point, his manager tells him how he's conquered the UK and the next logical step is to go after the big bucks in America. During this entire exchange, I'm thinking "when the hell did he conquer anything?"

A few weeks ago I blasted the movie Get on Up for giving subject James Brown, a pass for his egregious behavior and just being too reverent of him in general. On the other hand, I have to commend it for making sure that we know his particular gifts and his hard labor culminated in gifts for the world. In Jimi: All is By My Side, what Hendrix gave to the world is murky, at best, rendering the entire thing pointless.


  1. I wanted to see this because I do love Jimi Hendrix as well as Andre 3000. It's just a shame John Ridley was unable to get music rights which I think is unfortunate because it could've helped the film.

    1. It would definitely have helped the film. A few rewrites of the script would've helped, too. It just does a poor job conveying what the music buying public loved about him.

  2. ^^^He played enough cover songs that they would have been fine for music I would have thought.

    This sounds like a horribly pessimistic and baseless depiction of Jimi Hendrix. I will probably watch this at some point, but I have read and watched endless footage and recollections of Hendrix, and this does not sound like him. He was shy, yet, but if this film depicts him be dragged to stardom as you put it, well, that is just silly. He was always a shy man.

    Obviously though, I'll have to see this myself to make up my mind properly

    1. In the movie, the only cover I only remember him playing two, and only one was on stage.

      This Jimi is less shy than just being in his own world most of the time. Benjamin really is good, though. I'd love to see what he would've done with the role given better material.

    2. As a Hendrix fanatic I must at least check it out. Only two covers? What else did they play then?? He covered so much stuff, hell two of his best known songs are covers!!

    3. Only two that were recognizable as songs. The rest of the time is was a lot of guitar riffs. I'm assuming the covers Hendrix really did still fall under the umbrella of music they couldn't get the rights to.

  3. Thanks for the warning!

  4. Eek, a Hendrix movie without Hendrix music! That sounds...ill advised. Like you said, incomplete. It's a shame.

    1. Really is. When you can't get the rights to the music of the person your movie is about it's probably best to shut it down.