Examiner Dorri Olds interviewed writer director John Ridley. This conversation was Sun., Sept. 21, 2014.
Ridley is best known for his Academy Award win last year for Best Adapted Screenplay for “12 Years a Slave.” In this film, “Jimi: All Is By My Side” Ridley wrote and directs. The cast is strong, especially André Benjamin who plays Jimi Hendrix. Imogen Poots gives a noteworthy performance as Linda Keith, Keith Richard’s girlfriend. She is the woman who discovered Hendrix and introduced him to Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) who became his manager. This was Chandler’s first time as manager; previously he’d been a bass guitarist in The Animals.
The movie is about a year in the life of Jimi Hendrix that led up to the 1967 star-making concert Monterey Pop. Unfortunately the audience of “Jimi: All Is By My Side” doesn’t get to see that concert because the Jimi Hendrix estate refused to let any Hendrix music be used in the film. That right there is the biggest weakness in this movie. How can you tell a story about Jimi Hendrix without his music? One way that Ridley got around the lack of Hendrix music was by getting permission to use a couple of cover tunes Hendrix did including “Sergeant Pepper.”
Hayley Atwell plays Kathy Etchingham, one of Hendrix’s long-term girlfriends. Mitch Mitchell is played by Tom Dunlea and Noel Redding by Oliver Bennett. Eric Clapton is played by Danny McColgan and there’s a fun scene showing Clapton awed and shaken by Hendrix’s talent. Hendrix went onstage to jam with Clapton’s band Cream. When Clapton was blown away by Jimi’s performance he left the stage. Chandler said he went backstage to look for Clapton and found him with his hands shaking trying to light a cigarette. He asked Chandler, “Is he really that good?”
The films biggest strength is André Benjamin, who eerily transformed himself into the rock star. He became Hendrix. At times you forget you’re watching an actor. The film is worth seeing and rabid Hendrix fans could argue that it’s a 3-star film.
Dorri Olds: Who did you talk to that actually knew Jimi Hendrix?
John Ridley: I did as much research as I could. I talked to Linda Keith and Danny Bramson, one of our music producers that had been around in that era. Many things had been written but in places where I could go a bit deeper, I did. I wanted to because this is a life that has taken on legendary proportions so there are incidents where people tell stories in different ways. The fact of the matter is that historically people argue about what actually happened and who was there. So, wherever I could find people and talk to them directly, I did that.
What happened with the Hendrix estate? Why-oh-why would they not let you use the music?
That’s something you would have to ask them. The reality is there are filmmakers like Paul Greengrass who also wanted to make films about Hendrix but they could never bridge that divide between what they wanted to do artistically and what the estate might want to achieve with their property. It’s interesting that The Beatles estate was willing to sign off on letting us use “Sergeant Pepper.”
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“Jimi: All Is By My Side” opens in New York City on Fri., Sept. 26, 2014. Rated R. 116 min.