“Jimi: All Is by My Side” is a slice of life look at Jimi Hendrix on the cusp of his legendary performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Unfortunately, as written and directed by John Ridley, the movie often comes across as a jarringly edited documentary. By virtue of the directing and editing style, this seems to have been done on purpose, but a quasi-documentary makes for quasi-entertainment…which is to say not all that satisfying, despite some fantastic performances.
“Jimi: All Is by My Side” opens with an interview of Hendrix (André Benjamin), then jumps back in time to Hendrix, going by the name Jimmy James, working with a group in a NYC club. He’s caught the eye of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), who happens to be the girlfriend of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. That identification becomes a joke throughout the film, but Linda is much more than a “friend of.” She’s rich, smart and more importantly, has tons of connections in the music business. It’s through those connections that she learns that Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the bass player in the Animals, is leaving the group and wants to become a manager. Hendrix has no representation and because the Animals played the kind of music with which he could identify, a “partnership” is formed. Chandler convinces Hendrix to come to London and start playing gigs there. He believes that the London scene will be more receptive to Hendrix’s music. Hendrix goes, after getting a promise from Chandler that he will have the opportunity to play with Eric Clapton.
In London, Hendrix enters into a romantic relationship with Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) who seems to be with him, no matter what his mood—good and bad (and if the film is to be believed, there is a lot of bad). Hendrix thrives in London, playing with some of his idols…finally getting the chance to play with Clapton, who can’t get over how great Hendrix is. Working the clubs in England brings him to the attention of Paul McCartney, who recommends him for a spot in the Monterey Pop Festival. This is where the film concludes, but is where Hendrix’s career takes off.
In André Benjamin (part of the duo OutKast), Ridley has found a near perfect Jimi Hendrix. As written by Ridley, Hendrix could be charming, naïve, sly, abusive and distant. Who knows if he was really like this, but Benjamin’s portrayal of this man’s changing emotions is spot on. And because Benjamin is a musician, when portraying Hendrix the musician, Benjamin’s performance seems especially strong and genuine. Imogen Poots gives a very convincing performance of the woman behind the man. In her portrayal of Linda, she lets you know that she is much more than a pretty face. Haley Atwell is very good in the sad role of Hendrix’s girlfriend, Kathy. She gets him comfortable with the 60s Carnaby Street style of dress and too often gets slapped and worse for her troubles.
Ridley does a terrific job in showcasing the 60s lifestyle and dress, mixing in real footage with replications. It should be noted that 60s fashion for women—hair, makeup and dress were absolutely fabulous…men not so much.The film gets the smallest details correct… down to the women’s eyelashes.
Talks with the character Michael X seem to awaken Hendrix to the racism in England and America. We are led to believe that this is perhaps what gave way to his activism later. However, if one does research, we learn that Michael X is a fictional character, so we’re not really sure what caused the change in Hendrix’s personality.
Because of the constraints of Hendrix’s estate, we don’t hear his original music, but we do hear his covers. It is Benjamin’s voice throughout and he practiced guitar to make sure his hand movements were right, but the actual guitar sounds are from Waddy Wachtel. The combination works beautifully. We get Hendrix’s renditions of Dylan, the Animals and his truly unusual version of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” all sounding emphatically terrific.”
Although “Jimi: All is By My Side” is blessed with some absolutely amazing performances, most especially that of André Benjamin, and beautiful aesthetics, it is ultimately severely wounded by the jarring and undermining manner in which Hendrix’s story is told.