British/Irish biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side tells the story of celebrated guitarist Jimi Hendrix, from humble beginnings jamming in the deserted Cheetah Club in New York City through to the development of the Jimi Hendrix Experience across Europe and his performance on 4 June 1967, at the Saville Theatre, London. The film is not your conventional biopic, with no dramatic rise to fame or fall from grace. All is by my side simply illustrates the portrait of a man behind an incredible talent.
Hendrix’s private life mainly arcs around his semi-professional relationship with Linda Keith (Keith Richards’ girlfriend, played by Imogen Poots), who ‘discovers’ him and his next, seemingly long-ish relationship with Kathy Etchingham (played by Hayley Atwell). Their time together isn’t all peaches and cream, which is an admirable aspect of this film. Hendrix isn’t portrayed as the angelic hero of the story that many of us would like to believe. He doesn’t treat Kathy well in many situations (at one point going as far as to beat her with a telephone receiver), leaving us with a more gritty portrayal of the star.
The message conveyed in All is by my side is that music should not be questioned and pigeonholed into some pre-assigned genre or style. It is what it is and Hendrix was all about being inspired, clearly by the likes of Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, as the film narrates. The film isn’t about desperately covering every facet of Hendrix’s private and public happenings, in actuality the film covers only about a year in his life. Assumedly, the biopic’s intention is about getting to know the man and his inner workings, who comes across as pretty normal yet extraordinary all at once.
Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 to his Outkast fans) plays Hendrix and his performance is not too shabby at all. It is easy to get lost in his streams of dialogue, his relaxed nature, his love for the profound. Andre did actually do an incredible job; a giant leap from the musical film (Idlewild, 2006) that everyone kind of pretended never happened. Andre is very convincing in his role as Hendrix including his musical performances which were quite hypnotising.
In terms of storytelling structures, this biopic attempts to alter conventions however, does stick to some set configurations. One particular instance of this is whenever anyone sees Hendrix play for the first time they stand there in disbelief, mouth gaping open. There are lots of titles throughout the film that introduce certain characters, which was a bit unnecessary, but another unique aspect was the layering of dialogue, like being in that bar listening to two conversations at once. This enhanced the realism that All is by my side was going for.
At times the film gives the impression that it is meant to appeal to the Hendrix fan and that some outsider audiences won’t be able to pick up on all of the little throwaways. Because of this, film can be deemed minimalist as it doesn’t give a lot away. And perhaps that is the intention as, with all musical biopics, the impacts are a jolt in the music sales of the artist and a buzz of interest in the star’s life and times. This can provoke reissues of albums, special editions, un/authorised biographies, TV documentaries, replays, the uncovering of lost video footage/audio/photos and whatever else is possible in order to ensure their work is sufficiently milked.
All is by my side covers a very small part of a life that was cut short with thanks to substance addiction. Hendrix passed away when he was a mere 27 years old, but this never comes up in the film. What is really at stake here is his life and his prime, a lot of which was spend in Britain.
Review Score: THREE STARS OUT OF FIVE
Jimi: All Is By My Side was reviewed as part of the Canadian Music Week Film Festival in Toronto. The film will have its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival next month. More details here: http://www.sff.org.au/