Jimi: All Is By My Side (Ireland-UK-US, 2013)

Film as uncanny

Andre Benjamin, of Outkast, is Jimi Hendrix. Well, he isn’t but he certainly does a great impression of the great guitarists even if writer-director John Ridley’s biopic is severely hampered by a lack of copyright clearance for Hendrix’s own music. Like Don Cheadle, in Miles Ahead, the film works because we appear to be eavesdropping on a great. Of course, all biopics are an interpretation but Ridley’s work seems to be more than necessarily contentious: Hendrix is shown beating his girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell superb too), who has denied it happened.

Ridley sensibly focuses on one year from Hendrix’s ‘discovery’ by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), then Keith Richards’ girlfriend. The film knowingly lays out the position of women in the ’60s; future Hendrix manager, ‘Chas’ Chandler (excellently embodied by Andrew Buckley) doesn’t know who Keith is (a Vogue model) until she says she’s the Stones’ guitarist’s girlfriend. The film finishes just before Hendrix’s triumph at Monterey Pop and the film climaxes with The Jimi Hendrix Experience playing ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, released just three days earlier, to an audience including a couple of Beatles.

I knew little of this part of Hendrix’s life, hence the film was of particular interest as I love Hendrix’s guitar playing (an ex-colleague told me once he’d seen Hendrix play in Ilkley, a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales – it’s a slightly surreal idea that this elemental rock god played there). In focusing on one year Ridley avoids the necessary lacunas required to cram a life onto celluloid. In addition, Ridley dips into the editing tricks of the French new wave that had made its mark at the time (1966-7). Discontinuous editing, that Godard might have been proud of, and displaced soundtracks help give a sense of the joie de vivre of ‘swinging London’. The social class differences between Keith (posh) and Etchingham (northern), though, aren’t really explored, which is a pity as that was a staple trope of ‘swinging sixties’ films.

One disadvantage of the film stopping as Hendrix was about to become a big hit is we don’t get experience the tragedy of his early death. At the time this was something of a ‘fashion’, Brian Jones and Janis Joplin amongst others, so I suppose it’s fair to avoid this convention though there’s not even a few end titles about what happened next. I think to assume everyone knows what happened is wrong, as I’m not sure younger generations are particularly aware of the man’s greatness.

 

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