By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix
When writer/director John Ridley decided to make a movie about Jimi Hendrix, he was faced with a pretty big question. How do you make a biopic on one of rock n’ roll’s legendary characters without a license to play his music?
Knowing that he couldn’t chronicle the entire career of the greatest guitarist in the history of rock music, Ridley was inspired to do something different, which was to focus on a year in Hendrix’s life. As a result, what we get is a decent, but unsatisfying biopic.
Andre Benjamin, Courtesy Patrick Redmond
It’s not that Ridley doesn’t deliver, but there’s something innately moving about hearing the familiar work of a great artist within the context of their life.
With André Benjamin (André 3000 of Outkast) starring as Hendrix, “Jimi: All is By My Side” focuses on the year 1966-1967, before his ultimate success at the Monterey International Pop Festival in California on June 18, 1967.
Ridley’s version opens at New York's Cheetah club where a nonchalant Jimmy James (as he was called then) is spotted by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), girlfriend of Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, while strumming his guitar on stage. She sees something in him no one else does and becomes determined to thrust the lackadaisical lad into the limelight. Fast-forward a few scenes and Keith finds a willing audience with Animals bassist Chas Chandler who she invites to see him in action.
Chandler quickly became his manager and convinces him to relocate to London. There, Hendrix absorbs the burgeoning British psychedelic movement, adopts the name Jimi, gets a glimpse of black life in Britain, forms a trio with two British musicians and becomes an instant sensation. The film then wraps just days before he is set to fly to California for the pop festival that literally ignited his career.
If you’re expecting to hear Jimi’s jams from “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” or any of his major hits then you’re in for disappointment for this isn’t that kind of biopic. What Ridley delivers is a glimpse into the man behind the music. What you see is the time he spent as a young musician trying to make it on the streets and in the clubs of London, England and an occasional glimpse through a photograph or two flashed on screen of a lonely and not so idyllic childhood.
Writer/Director John Ridley, Courtesy Ryder Sloane
Benjamin gives an absolutely astounding and genuine performance that captures the spirit of Jimi as well and embodies his mannerisms. His portrayal of the frequently misunderstood, shy and introverted young man is certainly commendable.
Ridley also taps into 60’s black Briton, which was a time of turmoil for many blacks from the Caribbean and West Africa who had arrived in small groups as wartime workers. As a first generation Brit, growing up, I was regaled with tales of the first wave of immigrants to the U.K. who came on the Empire Windrush cruise boat, and their struggle to fit in which is something Ridley touches on.
Kudos to Ridley and Benjamin for giving us a glimpse of this fascinating guitarist and introducing him to younger generations, but watching “Jimi: All is By My Side” will inevitably feel unsatisfying for you’re left wanting more than just a peek into the life of rock n’ roll’s greatest guitarist.
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