John Ridley’s debut feature, Jimi: All Is by My Side, is a biopic of Jimi Hendrix which chronicles the year before he and his band were flung, slingshot style, into superstardom. His performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, which among other things is associated with the beginning of the 1967 Summer of Love, helped to bring him to public attention.
Ridley tries to do more than prop up an already established figure here. He attempts to plumb the depths of Hendrix’s characters and tries to present to us the man beneath the persona. We’re offered a glimpse of a fragile and damaged Hendrix.
Furthermore, he deviates from the tired trend of showing the excesses of a rock star, like what we see in Oliver Stone’s The Doors and instead focuses on human relationships. There’s nothing interesting in watching someone pretend to be high and it seems Ridley appreciates that.
He also has a good eye for cinema. He borrows jump cuts from the French New Wave style of film making. He disregards notions of linear story telling and conventions such as continuity editing. This is very much an art film, and contains flashes of beauty.
The film also is lifted by the casting of Andre 3000 in the lead role. His performance is superb; his nuanced portrayal of Hendrix is one of poise and is one of the real strengths of the film. He has perfected Hendrix’s mien.
Despite all this, one cannot help be disappointed. Being a fan, one goes into this film wanting it to be good but comes out wishing it was better.
Despite being interested in all things Hendrix, I was frequently bored. The plot lacks sufficient tension and the conflicts, when they come, seem bland and half-assed.
One also tires of the fawning admiration. He was just a rock star; one of the best, but just a rock star. One wonders how many scenes of slack jawed spectators, enraptured in the throes of worship, are necessary. All the characters that surround him seem pathetic and one dimensional.
“He’s bloody brilliant,” we’re told. Well yes, we knew that already. “He’s very cool.” Oh yes, we knew that too, anything else?
Image and video courtesy of Curzon World