As Charles Shaar Murray wrote in his collection of Hendrix essays, Crosstown Traffic, the 1960s “are on continuous rotation – but the tape deteriorates each time”. So it is with the new Hendrix biopic, written and directed by John Ridley. Promisingly, Ridley won an Oscar for his screenplay to 12 Years a Slave. Less promisingly, on this evidence, he’d struggle to direct his way out of a telephone box.
Jimi: All is By My Side is a bloody disaster area. It makes The Boat that Rocked look like a masterpiece. It makes Oliver Stone’s The Doors look nuanced. It makes Hippie Hippie Shake look like a model of truth and beauty. And Hippie Hippie Shake hasn’t even been released because it’s so bad.
Mainly, it manages to render one of the most exciting twelve months in James Marshall Hendrix’s life seem like the dreariest non-event in rock history.
Here’s how it fails in 15 different ways:
Can You See Me: It can’t decide whether it’s a straight biopic; a patchouli-scented love-triangle drama; a wrist-hacking arthouse movie about self-identity; or even a peculiarly feminist take on the Hendrix legend. The shapeless editing and stilted script probably doesn’t help.
Hey Ya-ndrix: André Benjamin’s charisma-free Jimi is less ‘gentle giant’ than ‘shambling, mumbling doofus’, pulled this way and that by controlling mentors, or bogged down with squabbling girlfriends.
Star-Strangled Clamour: In truth, it’s not really a problem that the Hendrix estate refused to let the filmmakers include a single note of his recorded output. Oh no, hang on, it’s a MASSIVE fucking problem. An attempt’s been made to plug the gap with a few cod-psychedelic stylings from session guitarist Waddy Wachtel – but Hendrix-virgins will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.
Dope-pelgängers: Pretty much everybody’s introduced with on-screen title captions, and frankly, we don’t half need them. I mean, is that Macca or Mama Cass? It’s hard to tell. To be fair, most of them just look like members of a Britpop tribute band.
Dire-alogue: With doozies like, “When the power of love takes over the love of power, that’s when things will change”, can this really be from the pen of the guy who wrote 12 Years a Slave? Three Kings? Team Knight Rider?
Kathy Etchingham: To get an idea of exactly how much the filmmakers have pissed off Hendrix’s former lover with their depiction of her (a banshee-like Hayley Atwell), head straight over to Etchingham’s own website. It’s probably fair to say she won’t be renting this from LoveFilm anytime soon.
Michael Jeffery: This ludicrous – if mercifully brief – portrayal of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s co-manager (and reputed former MI6 agent) recalls nobody so much as ‘Ron Decline’ from the Rutles.
Michael X: In real life, Hendrix was courted by the Black Panthers – though he’d generally pay more lip service to peace and love than revolution. Hence the purely fictitious scene in which he charmingly argues the toss with (real-life) Black Power leader-cum-hustler Michael X. It’s an interesting talking point, but feels like it belongs in another movie altogether.
Are You Experienced: Given this was a creatively fertile period for Hendrix, the decision not to portray some sense of that artistic process – even just by having him doodle a happy space alien on the back of a Rice Krispies packet – seems a bit perverse.
Manic Depression: In fact, for seemingly interminable stretches, Hendrix is simply confined to moping around his London flat while Kathy goes shopping or something. Perhaps Ridley’s trying to show the sheer ennui of life between gigs; a genius snared by domesticity and essence-sapping muses. But, you know, this is supposed to be a film about Jimi Hendrix. Not Noel Gallagher circa 1998. Where’s the fire? Where’s the spunk?
More to the point, where’s the volume control? Every so often, the audio just drops out: another pointless, arty contrivance that adds literally nothing to the drama.
Noises off: When not muting the action, Ridley’s repeatedly misaligning the dubbing. He’s clearly aiming for ‘disorientating and druggy’ – but it just makes everything look like a 1970s Kung Fu flick.
Swingeing London: Sure, the budget was tight, but London’s Summer of Love surely deserves more than a quick rummage in a thrift-store to the strains of Itchycoo Park.
I Just Called to Say I Hate You: The moment when Hendrix, completely out of character, batters Kathy senseless with a pay-phone receiver – an incident the real Etchingham flat-out denies. As she relates on her website, after protesting to the producers, they “replied that it was true because they had ‘thoroughly researched me.’ In other words they were saying that they were telling the truth and I was not.”
Monterey Flop: Having endured all the above for two hours, our one hope of being finally rewarded with a flambéed Stratocaster is extinguished under heel like the world’s skinniest joint, when just as Hendrix saunters through London Heathrow en route to Monterey… the film suddenly turns itself off like a tap. Bye bye. Piss off. Oh, and just to rub it in further, here’s Benjamin singing Wild Thing over the credits.
Jimi: All Is By My Side is out in the UK on October 24.