An Offbeat Music Biopic.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE(2014)
I’ll say that again, Jimi f**kin Hendrix.
Jimi Hendrix exploded into the rock scene in the late 60’s and twisted the very fabric of what the electric guitar can do. He painted his music on a canvas that baffled and astounded listeners for decades, and will continue to do so. Here was a guy who unleashed his soul on the world using his Electric Lady, his Fender Stratocaster. In four short years, he gave the world a new definition for rocknroll and took off with a blaze that normal people would shudder to think about. So while the entire world just knows- and by means of pop culture influences, respects him- how did James Allen Hendrix come into the light as Jimi Hendrix?
This is what I feel is one of the most endearing points about the movie, “Jimi: All is by my Side.” While most biopics about musicians chronicle their entire lives or their musical careers and don’t end up doing justice to most it, this movie shows the few months immediately prior to the formation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and his first major gig the Monterey Pop Festival. It explores Jimi the unknown musical prodigy. Having OutKast rapper and musician, André 3000, playing the frontman, the movie opens with his fruitless and struggling days playing backing and rhythm at New York’s The Cheetah Club, where Rolling Stones’ Richard Keith’s girlfriend, Linda Keith spots him. She sees a man with the most magical set of hands playing beautiful notes, with such fluidity and grace, that naturally she’s interested in him, as a musician and later on- a plutonic girlfriend. Then she ushers in the catalysts of transformation of James Allen to Jimi Hendrix; his Afro look, his first LSD trip and his first White Stratocaster. From then on, I’d prefer to let the movie to do the storytelling for you.
Shot in a slightly off-centre style of cinematography, with touches of art-house film prevalent, this is a one of a kind viewing experience. There are scenes where the conversations lapse into the background while the video skips ahead or lags behind- which serves to depict the movie in a drug-induced haze- and there are scenes where the sound is crisp and vision sharp- to show the focus an artist can have with his craft . Director John Ridley must have done this to match how Jimi Hendrix probably viewed life, which is a really cool way of storytelling; to tell a story in the way you’re showing the story. What really takes away this movie, which is fittingly as it should be, is the frontman André Benjamin. Here’s a guy who lived and breathed Hendrix for the movie, and even learnt left-handed guitar to play in some of the gigs in this movie. Interestingly, and rather unusually, this music biopic has not one original Hendrix song. André comes up with his own versions of Hendrix’s songs which will truly bring a smile on any Hendrix fan, and performs them with a truly commendable grasp of the guitar, making the movie a little rawer. André Benjamin plays the troubled genius in a way that makes him feel real to us again. He speaks smoothly like an air-headed hippie, and attempts to seduce us with a philosophical edge to his words. We start to view this guitar god as a mere human, with his own mortal problems and desires. André essays the character of Jimi Hendrix with subtle undertones of grief, anger, self-doubt, insecurity and whole lotta love to share, for the ladies in his life. I started to see where the origin of blues might have been for Jimi Hendrix in his real life, and where his inspirations might have been.
All Jimi Hendrix fangirl-ing aside, I confess, not everything seems to work together in this movie. The story seems to be rather directionless at points, some scenes may need effort to pull through, and it ends when it feels like it still should go on to finish. I, personally, allow for these shortcomings as altogether they seem to capture the essence of Jimi’s life. All the actors do their parts well enough, and the characters shown in the movie; from Clapton and the Beatles to Michael X, add to the magnanimity of this virtuoso’s iconic life and lifestyle. To conclude, this rather off-beat and yet groovy method of story-telling may serve to excite or anaesthetize viewers, but will definitely leave a mark on you, and the director would have definitely met his motive behind making the movie. To the uninitiated the movie will pique curiosity of the enigma that is Hendrix, and the fans will shuffle through the entire discography again in the memory of a man they wish they had more to know about.