On Friday night I watched the film Jimi: All Is By My Side. I had heard it got some bad reviews.
Some of the criticism concentrated on the veracity of some of the scenes, and that the estate of Hendrix wouldn’t allow any of his music to be used. Despite all this I thought it was a very good film. Possibly because of the refusal of the estate to license the music the film became less of a traditional music biopic; or maybe it was because it was less of a traditional music biopic the rights were refused? Either way the film approaches the year or so before Hendrix broke in America, when he was living and playing in England, in new (for me) ways. It touches on race and the notion of the “rock star” as established by people like Hendrix, Dylan, and Jim Morrison in the late 60s. On this latter theme it probes the pitfalls of such deifying, and I was reminded of the paradox Bob Stanley points to, by quoting Hendrix, in in his book Yeah Yeah
‘I don’t want to be a clown any more. I don’t want to be a “rock & roll star””,’ he told Rolling Stone’s Sheila Weller in late ’69 as he ate a Theragem and drank a shot of tequila for breakfast.
And I don’t think it for nothing that Bob Dylan is a presence throughout; the Dylan of the Blonde On Blonde album and the Don’t Look Back documentary who for Stanley ‘created, for good and ill, the modern rock star’.
If I’m making out the film comes down against Hendrix, it doesn’t. André Benjamin is brilliant as him – playing it a mixture of innocence, naiveté, hopefulness and pure talent. I carry no truck with the guitar god but when Benjamin, as Jimi, picks up his guitar, and just turns it over in his hands looking at it, I wondered what I always wondered when I hear Hendrix play, particularly on the live albums: imagine if that sound happened when you started playing. There’s a great bit in the film when Eric Clapton, after hearing Hendrix live for the first time, asks Chas Chandler, “Is he that good?” In this instance it doesn’t matter if this scene has been “invented”. The answer is yes, he is and was.