Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

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“It doesn’t have to be anything. It’s just beautiful the way it is.”

Jimi Hendrix is a cultural icon, forever a piece of the musical and artistic canons. His ubiquity defies explanation really. Ask passerbys on the street to name five of his songs – Wikipedia credits 52 written by Hendrix – and I’d bet almost no one could. Heck, more people would be able to list 5 Nickleback tracks. So why is it that Hendrix is such a cult figure? Why has this man, regarded as one of the best guitar players of all time, attained the status of being used as an adjective? That’s what Jimi: All Is by My Side should have explored. We yearn to understand this man and see his path to enshrined genius. Instead we don’t get to even hear one original track by Hendrix. Jimi is a sloppily edited and poorly made movie that ignores artistic development and growth in favor of brassy, showy attempts at storytelling by director and writer John Ridley.

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Jimi’s opening is an oddity. The scene is set as 1967 London. Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) is about to take the stage before an all white crowd. A short, recreated television interview clip serves as the only segue to the time jump backwards. After literally only 30 seconds and having already established the storyworld, we’re taken back an entire year. That’s where Jimi is playing lead guitar for a crappy band in an almost empty bar. Luckily for him Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) is in the crowd. She’s the girlfriend of musician Keith Richards and immediately takes notice of Hendrix’s prodigious talent. They have a fling, she introduces him to Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), former bassist of The Animals, a new musician ready to take on the role of a manager and represent Jimi.

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Through the eyes of various girlfriends and acquaintances, we get to see Jimi in his natural environment rather than up on stage. The best portions, and acting, come from Haley Atwell as Kathy Etchingham. She puts up with his bullshit, which there is plenty of to go around. Jimi is only included in his own story as a whammy bar, a vibrato and immature disruption who never takes himself, or the story around him, seriously. Drinking piques his violence, sometimes against women, and drugs make him care about nothing in the world. You get the feeling that had he not been surrounded by the people to keep him afloat and push him towards the stage that we wouldn’t know the name Jimi Hendrix. The film was made without the consent of his estate, hence why none of his original music is included. Everything is a riff and an improvisation, proving that you can stray from standard biopic clichés and melodramatic flair, but that just being something – anything – is not always beautiful. Directors are sculptors. John Ridley must have sat there like Demi Moore in Ghost, spinning the clay wheel while not having the intimacy of a Patrick Swayze angel or a Righteous Brother’s melody to guide his hands. Jimi is a flat-out mess.

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Viewers and critics alike have been raving over Andre Benjamin’s performance as Jimi. And it is good. When he’s up on stage strumming, licking, whaling on those guitar strings, he’s 100% believable. But that’s little to none of the movie, and boy does he suffer in the few dialogue driven scenes he has. Part of that is due to Hendrix’s personality and the rest is from the poor script. Jimi is made to sound like a prophet proclaiming some revelatory, ineffable truth, when in actuality he just sounds like a whimsical junkie coming up with life doctrines as he goes along from one high to the next. The Jimi Hendrix Experience may have been entertaining live, but here, it’s just strange. Terrible editing and horrendous, disgraceful sound mixing make you feel like you’re having a bad trip. Which makes sense with Hendrix’s built-up clout in drug culture. But that doesn’t excuse the dizzying headache the film induces. There are a couple of decent performances and a refreshing perspective to redefine the biopic genre limitations. Other than that, have fun, because Jimi: All Is by My Side is one long, lifeless guitar solo that waits far too long to unplug.

“Easy’s always boring.”

Rating: 1.5 out 5

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