For many of those who knew something of Jimi Hendrix’s ascent to rock stardom, it seemed that he burst on the scene at Monterey Pop Festival, coming over from England where he was starting to gain fame and went from there. However, there is more to the story than that. Jimi: All Is By My Side covers Jimi’s life from playing in clubs in New York through his move to England and the recognition of his immense talent. Like other movies about musician’s careers such as Ray and I Walk the Line, it does not sugar-coat his life. Instead, it shows the development of Jimmy James, guitar player from Seattle into Jimi Hendrix, rock superstar.
Andre Benjamin brings to the screen an interesting portrait of Jimi. He’s got the voice down, he’s got the singing down and most importantly, he seems natural in his acting. As with several rappers, he seems to have made the transition to acting rather well and Jimi could well be the role that allows him to gain the recognition he justly deserves. Jimi in the movie is not the wild, flamboyant performer he became and Andre plays him as quiet and even a little nerdy with his love of science fiction. It is a Jimi Hendrix not that many are familiar with but at the same time a portrayal of a man who had immense talent but often times did not know how to show it.
Hayley Atwell and Imogen Potts play the love interests in the movie. Atwell, as Kathy Etchingham and Potts as Linda Keith, both present well the women who saw more in Jimi often than he saw in himself. They also portray the darker side of the movie as Jimi’s women, hoping to be his girlfriend but stymied by his passion and love for his real mistress, his music. Another excellent portrayal is done by Andrew Buckley, as manager Chas Chandler, who saw what Hendrix was capable of and made the moves to make it happen.
Of course, the music plays a central part in the movie and Jimi: All Is By My Side avoids the well known later songs, instead using a combination of rock and blues cover songs to show the evolution of Jimi Hendrix from backup guitarist to guitarist extraordinaire, singer and leader of his own group. The guitar work as well is handled by Waddy Wachtel, a name who may be unfamiliar to those outside the music world, but constantly acknowledged by his peers as one of the top guitarists in the world, having played with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, The Rolling Stones, Joe Walsh and many others. The guitar work is flawless, from the unplugged acoustic work of early bluesman Robert Johnson through the live fire of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The music producer for the film is Danny Bramson, who brought a love of Hendrix’ music to this film. Bramson, a well-known music production veteran for movies such as Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire, has worked hard over the years to include the music of Jimi Hendrix in many of the movies he has worked on. With Jimi: All Is By My Side, he selected songs that show off the music that Hendrix played before he became famous, up to the beginning of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Bramson also selected a stellar set of musicians to perform the music.
John Ridley chose Jimi: All Is By My Side as a follow up to his 12 Years a Slave, both writing and directing the film. Ridley had fallen in love with Hendrix’ music and researched several little-known recordings as inspiration. By focussing on Hendrix the man as opposed to Hendrix the rock icon, Ridley has created not just a music video but instead a portrait of a living, emotional person who expressed himself best through his music.
The movie itself succeeds on several levels, showing Jimi Hendrix as a person and not just a rock star. Jimi: All Is By My Side is a good movie for those who are too young to have been around when Hendrix was and who think of him only because of his songs and the videos of Monterey Pop and Woodstock. And for those who remember Hendrix and the powerful music he created, the music alone is worth the price of admission.
Jimi: All Is By My Side opens in theaters this Friday, September 26, 2014.