Jimi: All Is By My Side

jimiallsibymysideposterWhile I always complain that most filmmakers play it safe, most particularly when it comes to creating formal biopics, this little indie film about the great Jimi Hendrix surprised me with its ingenuity. I’m not sure what artistic choices writer/director John Ridley (12 Years As A Slave) originally had in mind but the fact that the Hendrix estate refused to license songs seems to have pushed the filmmaker into unexpected creative territories.

From the beginning, it becomes clear that Jimi won’t be your standard linear biopic. To envelop us in the era, Mr. Ridley not only uses archival footage from the 60’s but he approaches his subject with a French New Wave feel, creating some kind of nonchalant detachment reminiscent of the works of Mr. Godard (Breathless) and other 60s luminaries. This not only makes it more realistic – at least for those familiar with 60’s and European psychedelic cinema – but it adds some poetry to the music.

Another risk that pays off is that, rather than focusing on the guitar mastery and career highlights, Jimi explores Mr. Hendrix’s relationships and his rise to fame, ending logically before he found worldwide recognition at the Monterey festival.  The guitarist extraordinaire is portrayed as some kind of Peter Pan, a childlike figure and a dreamer lost in his own world but following inexorably his path to success.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that you won’t get a feeling of Mr. Hendrix’s talents. Rather than just showing some guitar pyrotechnics, there are two sequences that have been strategically placed to showcase his skills. In the first one, we see him get on stage and overshadow a young Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds) while in the second one he delivers a rousing rendition of “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in front of two Beatles and more music royalty.

Another strong scene I particularly enjoyed is when he’s getting patronized into becoming a black icon but instead replies that he plays for everybody and doesn’t want to be limited by music genre and racial boundaries.

When it comes to casting, it was another bold move as the non-professional actor but real-life musician André Benjamin (Outkast) plays Hendrix. Using an authentic music star might bring a better understanding of how it feels to be part of the music stratosphere and while he might not be a Marlon Brando, he seems to properly convey the essence of the guitarist. One can assume how two of Jimi’s spiritual sons, the talented Lenny Kravitz and Prince would have liked to incarnate that role; Mr. Benjamin however has the better traits – Mr. Kravitz looks too buff for the role while Prince might be too feminine.

If you’re looking for the ultimate Jimi Hendrix biopic, this is not it and that’s not what it’s about anyway. As an art film taking on another artistic medium – music – Jimi: All is by my Side however proves to be a surprising treat.

Director: John Ridley – Actors: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell – Running Time: 1:56 – Year: 2014 – Country: USA

Click the link below to watch the trailer:

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.