Jimi: All Is By My Side isn’t what I’d call a great biopic.
I like the concept, some of the direction and it features good performances by André Benjamin, Imogen Poots and Hayley Atwell. It suffers in its accuracy and portraying Hendrix in quite a negative light, contrary to what those who knew him would say about his character.
After a brief flash-forward on the evening of June 4, 1967, the film flashes back to one year prior at the Cheetah Club in New York City. The club is near empty, with only about 20 or so patrons. Among them is Linda Keith, played by Imogen Poots. Keith, currently Keith Richards’ boyfriend, watches the onstage band, Curtis Knight and the Squires, play, but her focus is drawn to one particular guitarist.
When the band’s set has finished, she speaks with the guitarist in question, Jimi Hendrix, played by André Benjamin. Interested in his ability to play the guitar, Keith invites Jimi to join some of her friends to get immersed with LSD. Now that is how you make a proper introduction. While watching Jimi begin to experience, Linda warns him to not look in the mirror the first time he tries this.
Linda sees great potential in Hendrix, but he’s not so on board with her idea of playing his own music. After all, if he left the Squires, what kind of music would he play? He’d like to do his own thing, but he can’t just up and leave.
So Jimi pays a visit to a lady friend who wants to go to The Village with him. Jimi, however, needs a few bucks, even though he’s known to spend it. She eventually relents and gives him some money, but demands that he bring back some food. Good luck with that, girl who we’ll never see again.
Linda introduces Jimi to Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham, played by Robbie Jarvis. He’s less than enthralled about Jimi’s playing, even though Linda believes he is brilliant. She would like to visit Harlem one day since she’s never heard rhythm and blues, but Jimi tells her that there’s nothing for her in Harlem.
We then briefly meet Keith Richards himself, played by Ashley Charles, as he’s furious about his girlfriend hanging out with this addict of a guitarist.
Linda’s next attempt comes in the form of The Animals’ bassist, Bryan “Chas” Chandler, played by Andrew Buckley. Chandler is done playing bass and now wants to manage. Luckily, Linda may have the right person in mind. She suggests that Jimi sing, but he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice.
At a club that evening, Chandler gets a firsthand listen to Jimi James and the Blue Flames. He’s bowled over by Jimi’s strumming and calls the man brilliant. He just can’t believe that no one has signed him. Neither of them has real management experience, but regardless, Chandler wants Jimi to join him in London. Jimi isn’t on board. After all, there’s plenty of talent in London already and Jimi isn’t a fan of labels. He just wants his music to go into the soul, and then paint it with a bit of science fiction.
But before Jimi departs for London, he’ll need to provide either his passport of birth certificate, neither of which he actually has. More than that, Chandler isn’t a fan of Hendrix constantly being silent, but Jimi insists that wisdom just listens. Sure, I guess, but he still needs some form of identification and he’s not planning to call his father anytime soon.
The date is September 24, 1966. Hendrix, Keith and Chandler have arrived in London. Also there and making small talk with Hendrix is a young woman by the name of Kathy Etchingham, played by Agent Peggy Carter herself, Hayley Atwell. Linda is jealous of the attention Kathy is giving Jimi, though Kathy promptly tells Linda to fuck off.
And after a night of love-making between Hendrix and Etchingham, they awaken to find Linda standing in Kathy’s room as she makes off with Jimi’s guitar.
Later on, Linda waits patiently for Jimi to meet her at a fancy looking restaurant. He finally arrives and she apologizes for letting her emotions get the best of her. She still thinks that he made a royal mess of things, but Jimi tells her that it wasn’t at all planned. There’s just no accounting for people. He does his own thing and takes shots as they come. Linda still tells Jimi that he shouldn’t expect other people to sort out his life. Jimi isn’t keen on taking her advice, but Linda reminds him that, in a group of 20 uninterested people, she is the one who found him. She wonders aloud if people mean anything to Jimi at all. The two still end on somewhat good terms as Linda gives Jimi a ticket to pick up his guitar.
Jimi and Kathy meet up with Noel Redding, who tells Jimi that the world is still heavily into the more edged rock and roll. He’s all up for joining Jimi, but Jimi tells him flat out that neither he nor Kathy have much money. They may be broke, but at least they’re cool.
After a not so successful phone call with Jimi’s father, Al, we meet Producer Michael Jeffrey, played by Burn Gorman, who would prefer that Jimi find himself some drummers. He’s on-board with the name “Jimi Hendrix and The Experience,” so there’s that.
October 1, 1966. Regent Street. Jimi finally gets his meeting with Eric Clapton, played by Danny McColgan. But not only does Jimi get to meet him, Jimi wants to get on stage and play with the band. It sounds crazy, but hey, Clapton’s on board with it. The packed audience awaits as Hendrix plugs his guitar in and begins to jam. Soon enough, the crowd is loving it and Clapton ends up leaving the stage in amazement at how good Hendrix can play.
Sounds like this Jimi Hendrix boy has a pretty bright future ahead of him.
Making a biopic is challenging, and Jimi: All Is By My Side is no exception to the rule. Do the people involved want to make their own story or stay as faithful as possible? Should the performances be similar to the people they are based on or should we allow the actors room to create their own interpretation? It’s hard to get everything right.
So this movie doesn’t include any of Jimi Hendrix’s actual music. That’s not a deal breaker for me and I still enjoyed the guitar work that we had, particularly a scene toward the end that I’d rather not give away.
There’s a lot of talent that went into the making of this film. It was both written and directed by John Ridley, whose most recent work was 12 Years a Slave. The cinematographer is Glenn Freemantle, who recently won an Oscar for his work on Gravity. André Benjamin really does feel like Hendrix, so some thought did go into getting certain aspects right before making the film. While I’m not overly sold on some of the cinematography: fading in, having certain dialogue not heard, or the use of still images and footage to illustrate what characters may be thinking, they do give the film its own distinctive visual flair. It’s not a flair I’m fond of, but the film does have its own identity.
And speaking of, there’s a lot of focus on personal identity and discovery in the film. This movie takes place before Jimi Hendrix became the well-known artist that he was and focuses on the year leading up to that. Hendrix himself hates and flat out rejects the idea of labels or being defined by someone else. When the film proposes that he be a proponent for Black London, Hendrix counters that everyone in London is a friend to him. Jimi seems to be fine with letting life play out as is, but not letting it determine his destiny. That’s his responsibility. Hendrix is very laid back here. Linda even makes the point that if she hadn’t discovered him, he probably would have been content playing in the same club to a small audience. He doesn’t see himself as a legend or revolutionary.
Given that the movie couldn’t use any of Hendrix’s music, I’m okay with it focusing on a particular period in his slow rise, as we get to see what the man was like before becoming a legend.
André Benjamin’s performance is easily the best in the film. Granted, Benjamin himself is older than Hendrix would have been at the time this film is set, but he feels like Hendrix. Long before this movie came out, I can remember people saying that if there was ever a Jimi Hendrix film, this was the only person to play him- and it’s just who we got. I do wish that this interpretation of Hendrix wasn’t so, for lack of a better phrase, lost in translation. He gets philosophical with his ideas on music and the universe, but there are long moments where he doesn’t speak at all. Then, all of a sudden, he’ll have these sudden bursts.
And though I was originally fine with Hayley Atwell’s performance as Kathy Etchingham, she’s really just more of the groupie along for the ride based on this portrayal.
Now my biggest problem with the film is the characterization of Etchingham herself. I didn’t have any issues with this until I did my homework. Kathy Etchingham is still alive. She had no involvement in this movie whatsoever and was not even consulted. I don’t understand this decision at all. I would think that the filmmakers would want to reach out to the real life person that they are going to portray in order to make sure that they are doing Etchingham justice.
Etchingham herself has come out quite harshly against this film’s portrayal of not just her, but Hendrix as well for a particularly brutal scene where Hendrix beats Etchingham with a telephone. Etchingham has called this fictitious and the scene itself does come out of nowhere. Look, I never knew Hendrix personally and have no claims to his personality, but I never thought of him as a violent man. Apparently, neither did the woman who actually knew him. I question the inclusion of this in the film. I hope it wasn’t for forced drama, because it seems like it’s just here for shock value. It makes Hendrix look unfavorable in my eyes. Nothing said that John Ridley had to seek out Etchingham, but I don’t get why he needed to paint Hendrix and Etchingham in a negative light when he had plenty of resources to consult.
According to Hayley Atwell in May of this year, she never contacted or met with Kathy Etchingham, saying that she trusted John Ridley’s work and Etchingham’s book. It was more about Atwell’s interpretation. You can try to put a spin on things, sure, but again, the real life person is right there. Call her up or email her, but saying that you didn’t want to meet with the real life person you’re portraying because the film was about your own interpretation is a huge disservice to Etchingham. Etchingham has had quite a few slights when it comes to others discussing her love life with Hendrix, with authors Curtis Knight and Charles Cross retracting claims that they interviewed Etchingham.
I’m not trying to turn this into a discussion of fiction versus reality, but I find this to be a bigger issue than the lack of Hendrix’s actual music. The Hendrix estate would not allow it. There is no excuse for not using real life resources available, particularly when the film begins by telling the audience that it is based on a true story. “True” is only half right. It’s about Jimi Hendrix, but what we got is far from accurate. I would hope the purpose of this film wasn’t to portray Hendrix in a negative light, especially if that turned out to not be true.
Now that my giant problem is out of the way, I do have some minor complaints. The dialogue does tend to drag on a bit too long at times. It feels like we’re a fly on the wall during certain conversations, but often I wondered whether the camera just kept rolling after a scene ended and the actors didn’t realize it.
The film has quite a number of real life faces from this period. Along with Hendrix, Keith, Etchingham, Richards and Chandler, we get appearances from the likes of Paul McCartney, George Harrison, The Who is mentioned- some of the big groups at the time. When these people are introduced, the screen freezes and we get an annotation telling us who this person is, rather than allowing that to come through dialogue. And if you’re going to have folks like McCartney and Harrison appear, why have them show up and not give them dialogue? The film could have easily just alluded to them.
Jimi: All Is By My Side is a mixed experience. I Don’t Live Today to call this a movie that I love. There’s talent involved, but it’s lost in a Purple Haze of misrepresentation of Hendrix and Etchingham and some odd direction. My One Rainy Wish would have been some respect for Hendrix and Etchingham’s portrayal, but Ain’t No Telling why Ridley and those involved with this film chose not to seek out better resources than what they chose. If you want to see this film, I’d say do some research, then Wait Until Tomorrow when you have a better decision. This film is not necessarily bad, but not beautiful. Nothing to rush out and see.
Now excuse me while I whip this out.