Jimi: All Is by My Side
Directed by John Ridley
A drama based on Jimi Hendrix's life as he left New York City for London, where his career took off.
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★★★½ review by Swartacus on Letterboxd
It's unfortunate this film was basically submarined due to the fact that they weren't allowed to use Hendrix's music.
The directorial debut of John Ridley (writer of U-Turn, Three Kings, 12 Years a Slave, and various Fresh Prince and Martin episodes) is an unpolished gem...a blurry sketch which occasionally crystallizes into razor-sharp focus.
For what it's worth, i LOVE that the usual greatest hits package of "Hendrix for Dummies" tunes are nowhere to be found. The monumental pretense is stripped away and we are left with a bare bones character study vs. a Voodoo Chile beer commercial.
Most of the music is fantastic, yet understated, Hendrix-inspired instrumentals from a house band. These are sketches of what the Hendrix "experience" was to become. I really enjoyed how Ridley used what he could to shape the tone of this period piece. There are only a few times when period perfect songs command your attention and you are drawn more into the music than the man. It's fitting the last few lines of the film have to do with inspiration. Ridley uses Dylan's "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat" to perfection in an early scene to show how Jimi was influenced by the 60s troubadour and I think it is a very interesting commentary on how Jimi (because he was black) essentially had to go to London to repurpose his own people's music in order to break back into the states to join in with the white artists who stole it in the first place.
Ridley later floats in snippets of a note perfect cover of "Wild Thing" by Andre 3000 and the house band. This was so dead on I could have sworn it was the real deal. It felt like a hovering storm of primal rawk that was about to make landfall on the unsuspecting hippies of Monterey, California.
However, the real show-stopper is the Andre 3000/house band cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. This scene is mind-blowing in its accuracy and supercharged electric atmosphere. This scene conveys the spontaneous brilliance that was Hendrix better than any crappy facsimile of his famous Star Spangled Banner rendition or burning Stratocaster could have.
Andre 3000 is revelatory here. His talent is unmistakable and the pure joy in which he plays the Sgt. Pepper scene is truly something which grabs you in a way few actors have the capacity to do. Andre nails this role easily and with even more nuance than Kilmer as Morrison or Cusack/Dano as Brian Wilson. It is perfection.
The film itself is a mixed bag that ping pongs from the controversial domestic violence scenes to actual intriguing looks into the race relations of 60s London (which I highly doubt a white filmmaker would have touched). The look of the film is experimental and visually interesting. Sporadic smash cuts to black, The Limey-style cross-cutting, mixed media, use of old stock footage and varying film grains abound. If you are a hardcore fan of this specific scene you are in for a treat...casual fans of Hendrix are probably better off watching a concert DVD.
It's really a pity Ridley hasn't directed another film, he has real talent. I see he has no credits after this neutron bomb until he attached himself to another recent colossal failure (as a writer - Ben-Hur).
Jimi-All is by My Side ...despite having the worst title in the history of biopics... is an intriguing lark of a film and a showcase for the surprising talent of Andre Benjamin and John Ridley. I would love it if these two got together for another film...even if it is just to do a sequel where Jimi (off his triumph at the Monterey Pop Festival) is forced to tour the States with The Monkees and blasts the faces off unsuspecting 12 year olds and their dads (yes this tour really happened, and yes I would have paid to see it).
★★★½ review by Ken Rudolph on Letterboxd
André Benjamin (AKA André 3000) from OutKast does an uncanny job of channeling Jimi Hendrix in this narrowly focused biopic. Because of problems obtaining rights to Hendrix's music, the film only covers the year or so period from 1966 to 1967, starting when Hendrix (going under the name Jimi James) was an unknown back-up guitarist in New York, through his relocation to swinging London where he formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and up to the invitation to perform at the seminal rock concert "Monterey Pop" (where, incidentally, I happened to have watched him play in person and was blown away by this previously unknown genius.)
The film could have used more of Hendrix's music, especially his vocals. Instead it concentrated on Hendrix's affairs and friendships with several girls, including posh Linda Keith (girlfriend at the time with Keith Richards), a plummy performance by Imogen Poots. Director John Ridley (who also wrote the inventive script) had a good eye for the period; but occasionally he would fall into some annoying editorial tics, such as playing a scene totally without any sound or conversely with sound only against a black screen. But the film belonged to Benjamin. Like him or not as an actor, one has to be impressed by the veracity of his guitar playing, and his convincing job of maturing his character as an artist.
★★★½ review by Michael Offerosky on Letterboxd
John Ridley (12 YEARS A SLAVE) writes and directs JIMI: ALL IS BY SIDE, a generally less than stellar biopic about Jimi Hendrix. The one major thing that the film has to offer is an award worthy performance by Andre Benjamin as Jimi. His performance is eerie and uncanny. The rest of the film is a mixed bag. It captures the time pretty well and the stage performances are energizing. The rest of the film is less than involving as writer/director Ridley focuses on the tabloid scandals in Jimi's life as he courts fame. At nearly two hours this film is a bit of a task to get through but Benjamin's performance is mesmerizing and makes the film worthwhile. If there were any justice the Oscars would have remembered Benjamin's performance as Jimi for the Best Actor category but little films are often forgotten and it doesn't help that he's the main attraction when it comes to the film. Jimi was a musical icon and Benjamin's performance is iconic.
★★★½ review by Peter Valerio on Letterboxd
I loved the meandering structure. It gives the film a loose feel that threatens to fly apart, but somehow never does. Like a Hendrix solo.
André Benjamin is pretty incredible. He's the reason to watch this.
Some of the dialogue, however, is distractingly clunky.
★★★½ review by Matt Thomas on Letterboxd
Once you get past the fact that the film makers obviously didn't have permission to use Hendrix's music, there's a decent drama to be found. Outcast's Andre 3000 is fine but it was the support from Atwell, Negga and Poots that impressed me the most. A very British film about a very American man. Works much better than you might expect.
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