PROCEED WITH CAUTION! There is a movie on the loose that defies the norm:
Jimi: All Is By My Side
Plot: Written and directed by John Ridley (Oscar-winning writer of 12 Years a Slave), this movie is about one year, 1966, in the life of Jimi Hendrix: the seminal year leading up to his fame. He was in London because unlike Americans, the Brits were able to accept a Black guitarist in what was then a predominantly white music scene. Two British women, his girlfriend and the girlfriend of Keith Richards (both white), shape him into a rock star, setting him up for success.
Hendrix is played by André Benjamin, alias André 3000 of Outkast (“Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture”) and is supposed to be phenomenal. Ridley was unable to procure permission to use Hendrix’s music, so the fictional Jimi plays covers of various songs, Hendrix style.
Critical consensus is that the movie breaks the biopic mold by evoking the times, the late 1960s, at the expense of its plot. This makes critics either excited and reverent or hot and bothered.
This is how three critics put it:
Review by Andrew O’Hehir
Spoilers: Way too many. He states that this is a little-known but true story, so then he gives us the details.
Unconventional Biopic: In an unbearable riff of pretension, O’Hehir says that the movie is yet another illustration of Ridley’s steadfast refusal to surrender to cant or ideological orthodoxy.
Evoking 1966: [The movie is] a work of sound-and-vision collage that suggests the experimental films of its late-‘60s period. Dialogue from one scene often flows into another (or is inaudible); newsreel footage and archival photos separate episodes; much of Tim Fleming’s cinematography comes in smoky, boozy interiors.
Hot and bothered: It is the weirdest rock biopic of all time…. Since there is no music by Hendrix, this movie will be known in the future as a footnote to the more normal Hendrix film somebody else will make someday.
Comment:That was so snotty! I spared you from his bias–which he claims has nothing to do with his opinion: he hates Ridely on so many levels, which explains much of his review.
Fun Fact: The film was entirely shot in Dublin, which more closely resembles ‘60s London than London does.
Review by Bilge Ebiri
Spoilers: Too many. Sigh.
Uconvenional Biopic: one can feel him looking for ways to avoid regurgitating the standard biographical details, the usual career high points and personal low points.
Evoking 1966: Ridley is more interested in creating an atmosphere rather than telling a story. He does this through closeups on the character’s facial expressions and other details, as well as the constant background chatter, which gives the movie a trippy vibe.
Excited and Reverent: 4 out of 5 stars. …fascinating, perplexing film.
Bonus: Allegory: You can sense the movie desire to break free of the demands of the rock biopic, but you can also sense it constantly being pulled back. Maybe that’s the point — that the tragic Hendrix’s own flights of artistic fancy were constantly pulled back to earth by the necessities of living in a very specific time and place where racial discrimination abounds and petty competition pervades in the music industry.
Guardian of Canada
Spoilers: there are too many for my taste. He supports every little bitty observation wtih a spoiler. .
Unconventional Biopic: it is an unpredictable film, a difficult approximation of a biopic.
Evoking 1966: he conjures the time period through montage and feedback, cross-dialogue, distortion and the odd cover version.
Hot and Bothered, but excited and reverent: All Is By My Side is long and unwieldy. It’s perverse in the service of defining a man of great perversity. But you leave it thinking that the essence of the man – exposed through the people around him – has been brought to the for…. Hendrix was never easy to pigeonhole. All Is By My Side has him, if not in sound, then in spirit. Despite it all, the film delivers a Jimi Hendrix experience somehow the richer for sidelining the man and subverting his music.